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San Luis Obispo celebrates Lunar New Year and historic building

The Ah Louis Store Building decorated for Chinese Lunar New Year.
Sarina Grossi
The Ah Louis Store Building decorated for Chinese Lunar New Year.

San Luis Obispo celebrated the Chinese Lunar New Year on Saturday with a block party in the Historic Chinatown District on Palm Street.

Not only does 2024 mark the Year of the Dragon, but it also marks the 150th anniversary of the Ah Louis Store Building, a prominent landmark in San Luis Obispo’s Chinatown District.

When the store was built in 1874, San Luis Obispo was considered a hub for the Chinese community but by the 1950s, the population had dwindled significantly.

Bill Watson is the great-grandson of the store’s founder, Ah Louis. He said the store was seen as the center of celebrations for many events including the Chinese New Year.

“My family is proud that we can relive this experience today over 100 years later,” Watson said.

Karson Butler Events, the business operating the Ah Louis Store, organized the celebration in collaboration with the city.

The block party was kicked off with booths showcasing Asian cuisine with local vendors like Mee Heng Low, Sequel Tea and Bings Bao Buns. Local organizations also ran activities and booths like the Central Coast Chinese Association and Cal Poly Chinese Students’ Association.

The History Center of San Luis Obispo County hosted a booth that featured artifacts and photographs from the Chinatown District around the time the store was built.

Thomas Kessler is the executive director of the History Center. He said it’s important to acknowledge the past during the celebration.

“It's really hard to control where we go as a community if we don't know where we've been,” Kessler said. “And so acknowledging our past our shared history, even if you haven't lived in San Luis Obispo long, you're here now and you're part of the community now, and so let's celebrate where we've been.”

Performances were held throughout the block party, including tai chi demonstrations, dance routines and a number from the Cal Poly Lion Dance team as the finale.

The night ended with the city’s first-ever drone light show, a nod to traditional fireworks shows for New Year celebrations.

KCBX Reporter Sarina Grossi is currently working to earn her Journalism degree from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. She also works as a news anchor and reporter for KCPR Radio and as the Digital Manager for Mustang Media Group. Sarina was editor-in-chief of her community college newspaper. In her free time, she likes to read, watch movies, do arts and crafts, and go to thrift and antique stores.
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