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Latino neighbors mourn the loss of ‘Korean Mama’

October 31, 2014
Mourners gather in front of OK Liquor in Los Angeles' Koreatown following Owner Lee Young-ok's death Thursday. (Park Sang-hyuk/The Korea Times)

Mourners gather in front of OK Liquor in Los Angeles’ Koreatown following Owner Lee Young-ok’s death Thursday. (Park Sang-hyuk/The Korea Times)

Lee Young-ok ran OK Liquor in Los Angeles for 33 years, where she became known as “Korean Mama” to the Latino residents of Koreatown.

Her death Wednesday at age 72 has now drawn out more than 200 locals in mourning to her store on the corner of Western Ave. and 8th Street.

Some cried, “I miss you, Mama!” as flowers were laid neatly at its entrance, the same doors Lee walked in through at 7 a.m. and then out again at midnight every morning since the 1980s.

Lee was a beloved figure of her own in the neighborhood, known to hand out candy and snacks to children brought into the store and never cruel to the needy, whether it be customers short on cash or bus riders in need of one rides’ fare.

The liquor store owner was also known to have made donations to the Los Angeles Police Department’s Olympic Division and the local fire department.

An unnamed local had tears in her eyes Thursday as she visited the storefront. She remembered Lee as someone who would go out of her way to take care of customers as though they were a part of her family.

Lee’s sister Lee Bong-ok said she had been having severe stomach pain for a week but did not go to the hospital until Sunday, when the pain got worse.

“For two days, she worried more about the customers who would come to the store,” Lee Bong-ok said.

Two more days later, suffering from liver cancer, Lee fell into a coma. She died Wednesday at 7:30 a.m.

Andrea Alvarado, another local resident, said she had known Lee for 30 years as ‘Mama.’ Lee looked after not only her but her children as well.

Lee’s kindness will never be forgotten, Alvarado said.

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