Li Qiang rolled out the dolly with the cartons of product and started restocking the shelves. He thought to himself about this special day. After ten years of work, he would make the final payment on the market to the former owner. With the market paid for, he could start saving for the education of his young children. At least one doctor or lawyer, he thought. The immigrant way, he would work hard. The success of family the reward. There were, however, concerning events on the horizon. Li tried not to think about them as he continued to stock the shelves. Li thought back to how he became owner of Mighty Midget Market.

The area was the only place Li could afford to live when he came to the USA. A backwater corner of the city, poor as dirt, the only scenery the freeway. He went for the first “Help Wanted” sign he found, a run down Seven-Eleven.

Chet the long-time owner was skeptical at first. Li didn’t speak much English, but he blurted out “Li Qiang means very strong in Chinese.” Desperate for help, Chet took a chance. After all, don’t Asians work hard, he thought to himself.

As Li learned more English from interfacing with customers, Chet gave him more and more responsibility until he ran the night shift of the store. Those hours were scary, crime and all. Chet tired of the routine, the risk and narrowing margins of running the place. Seven-Eleven threatened to take the franchise away unless things changed.

One day, he had enough. “Li you have two choices. I am going to fire you, or you can buy the place, I’m through.” Li and Chet struck a deal. Li ask about the Seven-Eleven connection. Chet told him, “You don’t need it. They just take your money and don’t give anything back except a name.” 

Chet thought for a minute, “Hell call it The Mighty Midget Market. Everyone is bigger than you are.” They both laughed. The Mighty Midget was born. 

Years of hard work followed. With Li’s care, the small market flourished. It attracted loyal clients from the low-income residents of the area. Some on assistance, some disabled, some the working poor. Li knew all their names and the market needs they had. The customers liked seeing Li’s smile and being greeted. Respect in short supply for most. He even put a couple of chairs near the vending machines so people could sit for a while with a coffee and snack. 

Li had his favorites, Carl the disabled man who pushed his wheelchair over each day from the housing projects. Li always getting the door open for him. 

There was Thelma, a black woman who worked at the market for a while. Li looked up at the light fixture still broken overhead. One night they were confronted with a couple of thugs trying to rob the place. Thelma pulled a pistol from her back waistband and shot it in the air. Li surprised as the robbers by her having the gun, ducked under the cash register. The store was never robbed again. Thelma had somehow forged an education and went on to better things. She still came in once in a while to say hello. They both would look at the hole in the fixture and laugh.

Then there was Hugo who was sitting at one of the tables as Li stocked the shelves. He was a large man who wrote short stories. The neighborhood adopted him as the resident personality and philosopher. Most people knew him by site, his size his calling card. He would come in each morning grab a paper and coffee.

Hugo motioned Li over, “Li, here’s another article on that new convenience store, I think they are calling it, let me see, Quick Store. It’s going to have gas and cover a half a block. The neighborhood is really changing. Here look at the paper.”

Li shook his head. He worried about how it would affect his business. The neighborhood definitely was changing, gentrification edging in. There were giant apartment complexes being built just a few blocks away.  

Hugo handed Li the paper. Li read the headline, “New Store to Fight Food Desert Blight.” The article went on to describe how the only convenience store in the area was run down, offered poor health food items and was a magnet for crime. Li couldn’t believe his eyes. They knew nothing about the people who lived here. Most were on foot and carried their items home. Produce weighted them down. Besides their hunger needed the quick satisfaction of items on his shelves.

The article discouraged Li, maybe it was time to sell. No customers were in the store except Hugo. Li walked out front and looked at the worn MIGHTY MIDGET MARKET sign with a forlorn look on his face. Just then Hugo walked out. “What’s wrong Li?”

“Maybe me finished, big competition coming.” 

Hugo stopped and looked at Li, “Li my friend, the smallest bird often makes the prettiest song.”

Li half smiled, then out of the corner of his eye, he could see Carl, the man in the wheelchair pushing himself along the sidewalk toward the store. Li raised his hand in the air as if to say, maybe you’re right Hugo.

Li briskly walked into the store, there would still be days left for the Mighty Midget.

David Young