T&T already has 17 locations across Canada. It is expected to open its first Ottawa store in October. ((CBC))

Job-hunters, businesses and shoppers in Ottawa's Chinatown are awaiting the arrival of a giant supermarket chain specializing in Asian groceries with excitement and, in some cases, a little anxiety.

T&T Supermarket, which is owned by Loblaw Cos. and has 17 stores across the country, drew hundreds of people to its job fair at Dalhousie Community Centre in Chinatown on Thursday and Friday.

The chain is hiring more than 100 employees before the opening of its first Ottawa store at Hunt Club Road and Riverside Drive, near the Ottawa airport — a suburban location several kilometres away from Chinatown, which is along Somerset Street West in central Ottawa.

"T&T is very famous," said Lee, a former Nortel employee hoping to nab a job at the new store. Lee, who would not give her last name, said she sometimes drives all the way to Toronto to shop at existing T&T locations.

The sprawling stores feature huge Chinese takeout and bakery sections, Asian fruits and vegetables, fresh fish and seafood and a huge range of both Asian and typical North American groceries.

She said she could see herself working at T&T because she loves the store and likes talking to people.

Most of the other people who took a number and waited to be interviewed Thursday spoke Mandarin or another Chinese dialect, but little English.

Businesses try to adapt

Sam Yip, who co-owns Kowloon Market, a busy Chinese grocery store at Somerset and Arthur streets, said he wasn't impressed that the suburban store was recruiting in Chinatown.

"You have to show respect to other business people," he told CBC News. "What would you feel if I just had a job fair right in front of your business?"


Hundreds of people turned out for T&T's job fair at Dalhousie Community Centre in Chinatown. ((CBC))

Chinatown business owners such as Yip said they have known for a long time that T&T was coming but have never had to deal with anything like it before.

"We're not at that scale to compete directly. ... Well, we can only do our best, serve our customers better, to answer their needs," he said.

To find out what those needs might be, Kowloon Market did surveys and now plans to renovate the store to make it look nicer and expand it to include a section with non-Asian foods such as deli meats.

He's hoping to fill a gap that was left when the neighbourhood's Loeb supermarket closed a couple of years ago.

Peter So, owner of So Good restaurant on Somerset Street, said he plans to keep buying ingredients from his neighbourhood retailers even when T&T arrives, as it would be too inconvenient to drive to the suburbs.

He added that he hopes people who come to Chinatown to go to church on Sundays or to eat at the big Chinese restaurants also won't want to take a separate trip to get their shopping done.

"The only worry I have is T&T has a good brand name and in the beginning they will probably go and try the food," So said.

But grocery shop owner Chay Ngo said he's worried. "It's going to be very tough for us."

Grace Xin, head of the Chinatown business improvement area, said any large shopping centre that opens in the suburbs puts stress on downtown businesses.


Grace Xin, head of the Chinatown business improvement area, says any large shopping centre that opens in the suburbs puts stress on downtown businesses ((CBC))

"This will not be an exception," she added.

Her group is trying to make Chinatown a more attractive destination and is promoting it with a brochure that's given out at local hotels.

"We're going to embrace more arts and culture to our village, and we hope we'll offer, besides grocery stores, more to everybody who loves our area," she said.

For example, the Chinatown Remixed event in the spring showcased work by 50 artists in shops and restaurants throughout the neighbourhood. Xin is also planning an Asian festival featuring stiltwalkers and other street performers for the first week of October.