LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — A Koreatown neighborhood is feeling the loss of one local business owner as keenly as one who had lost a mother.

In fact, that’s exactly how Manuel Trigueros, who has lived next to the OK Liquor for 27 years, feels.

“Everyone called her the mama. All the kids. Even the grown people. I think everyone called her like that. Nobody knew her name, but for everyone she was the mama,” Trigueros said.

Lee Young-ok, who was known in the neighborhood as “Mama,” died last week of liver cancer at the age of 72. Flowers in honor of her continue to arrive at the liquor store, at the corner of 8th Street and Western Avenue, and neighbors have stood vigil outside the business nightly.

Lee owned the store for 33 years and customers say she’ll be remembered for generously handing out candy to the neighborhoods kids and giving money for bus fare to those who needed it.

While the neighborhood around OK Liquor is in the heart of Koreatown, most of the store’s neighbors are Latino – but that didn’t stop residents from becoming deeply attached to Lee.

“The language is not important,” customer Maria Santiago said, as she dropped flowers Tuesday, after her kids left a letter and roses Monday. “Important is what your expression is in your heart…in your mind.”

James Lopez, who says Lee became a second mother to his family after they moved into the building where the store sits, will always remember her for her advice.

“‘Don’t be in gangs. And be good in school,'” Lopez said.

It was wisdom any mama would share.


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