Community Spotlights

FDR Park Community Spotlight: Sarun Chan

by Fairmount Park Conservancy on June 10, 2022

On June 8th, the Philadelphia Department of Commerce awarded the Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia (CAGP) a $100,000 grant which will go towards establishing a permanent site for the Southeast Asian Market in FDR Park.

Sarun Chan, Executive Director of CAGP, grew up visiting FDR Park and the Southeast Asian Market, and he is thrilled that the FDR Park Plan is giving the popular weekend gathering a space to call its own. What began with one Laotian family selling food out of a blue van has grown to include more than 70 vendors with roots in Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand offering not only food but products unique to their countries.

Hear more from Sarun through his Q&A below.

What is your connection to FDR Park?

I grew up in South Philadelphia and I’ve been coming to the park since I was a kid. For me, it’s about more than the market. I learned how to fish there. I learned how to ride a bike there. It was the first city park that Cambodian refugees considered a second home. While refugees from Cambodia are now settled throughout the city, including a large concentration in North Philadelphia, these families still travel to FDR park, their home park.

You call the Southeast Asian Market a “Cambodian Diagon Alley,” like the mythical shopping area in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Why?

Because the Southeast Asian Market never had a designated park location, it was forced to move around a lot, popping up at random places in the park that people learned about through word of mouth. It was a hidden, magical market. 

FDR Park has long been important to our community, serving as a gathering space, a cultural hub and a business incubator. The $100,000 grant from the Philadelphia Department of Commerce will help us establish a permanent site for the Southeast Asian Market in FDR Park. 

When people talk about the Italian Market or Chinatown, rarely do they wonder if they’ll be there next year or not. We hope that the Southeast Asian Market too just becomes a Philly thing, drawing people from multiple states and becoming a travel destination.

What excites you about the FDR Park Plan?

FDR is one of the city’s most used and diverse parks. You’ll see Black families having family reunions, Latinos playing soccer, Cambodians making BBQ. It’s a harmonious place for all of us, but it has never got the TLC it deserved. The Park Plan will improve and elevate the space, bringing in more people and more events. It’s a major investment in the community and the future.

The market is currently held on Saturdays and Sundays from April to November, see the map below. Want to experience the market with an expert guide? Join us on one of our upcoming Flavors of FDR: Food Market Tasting Tours!

Opening photo: Ellen Miller / Philadelphia Parks & Recreation
Additional photos: Albert Yee