'Typical story' of an immigrant, a shop in Oldtown and a shooting

The Baltimore Sun

Stanley Zerden looked through a cold rain, staring at another shuttered shop at Baltimore's Oldtown Mall, one of the city's oldest commercial districts. The corrugated metal gates were pulled down and padlocked at the China Garden and Soul Food Carryout.

He was talking about the owner, Tian Zin Wang:

"His is a typical story of an immigrant who came here to start a business and did quite well."

Only this story ends with this line from a newspaper story published two days ago: "was shot multiple times during a robbery, police said."

And so ends another "typical story" in Baltimore, where nine people have been killed in the first six days of the new year, three of them teenagers, one of them Wang, 51, who came to America in 1991 from Fujian province, China.

He came for the same reasons others come here: to build a better life, to join relatives who lived in Howard County, to build a business with his wife, three daughters and son.

I reached his son, Sam Wang, by phone yesterday. He was at a funeral home talking to me in English and to a relative in Chinese. He was crying.

He told me that his father died Monday night. "He was hurt, real hurt."

It was Saturday night and the family was preparing to close the carryout when the phone rang with an order - the occupants of 810 Webb Court wanted $20 worth of food. He left with the bag, pocket change and a cell phone. Only 810 Webb Court is a vacant rowhouse, and police said Wang was attacked after he climbed out of his sport utility vehicle.

The son said his father called the store and told his wife, "Come right over, I got shot." His family sped to the scene and at first thought Zang wasn't seriously injured. He pointed to bullet wounds in his leg and arm. But at the hospital, he complained his back hurt, and doctors turned him over.

"It was all blood," his son said. "He got four bullets. One went through his lung. That's the one that killed him."

The younger Zang told me his father followed his sister to Howard County and that she had first owned the carryout but closed it because "she didn't like the area." Wang reopened it in 2004.

Sam Wang said most customers were loyal, but "from the day we opened, we faced all kinds of problems." He said kids threw rocks, garbage and even a firebomb. His father did not speak English well, but he said, "My dad never gave up."

Oldtown Mall has struggled for generations. It began as a farmers' market in the 1890s, burned in the 1968 riots, was looted in the blizzard of 1979 and targeted for renovation in 1994.

Zerden owns several of the buildings, including the one Zang ran his carryout from, and remains optimistic that 15-year-old plans to build a supermarket and restore the area will eventually bear fruit.

M.J. "Jay" Brodie, president of the Baltimore Development Corp., told me the project is moving forward on several fronts. A public housing complex across the street is being torn down and the city is working to acquire the remaining seven of 18 properties needed to proceed.

Sam Zang said the family will reopen and then sell the carryout. The details are still being worked out.

First the children have to bury their father.

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