Landmark NYC store to close, or will it?

Updated: 2015-04-14 05:28

By AMY HE in New York(China Daily USA)

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Landmark NYC store to close, or will it?

Pearl River Mart in SoHo, seller of Chinese and other Asian products, announced its closing on Tuesday. Ching Yeh Chen, the president of Pearl River Mart, said that before the store's lease is up in December, it might seek possible alternatives in order to keep the business open.[Photo by AMY HE / CHINA DAILY]

Most travelers who come to New York and make their way from Chinatown to SoHo know of a store at 477 Broadway that sells clothing, food, house wares and knick knacks, mostly from China, but also from Nepal, India and Thailand.

The store, Pearl River Mart, occupies three floors and sells 15,000 products. But after 44 years as a tourist and community fixture in New York, the store announced on Tuesday that it will shut down in December due to rising rents and increased competition from online retailers.

But Pearl River's closing is not set in stone just yet: from now until the lease's expiration, the owners will continue to search for alternatives, whether it means moving to a smaller space for less rent, or strengthening its online presence, said Ching Yeh Chen, president of Pearl River Mart and wife of Ming Yi Chen, the founder of the store.

"We want the business to continue," she told China Daily. "However, it's important that we also realize the situation right now — competition online and people's shopping habits changing from brick and mortar visits to online shopping. We have a website, but it's not strong enough."

"We have to put our efforts into the website, make it stronger, much more competitive than it is now, and also, downsize the business so that it's a manageable size," she said.

The store currently carries too many items, she said, many of which, when the store first opened 40 years ago, were very unique. But they're not anymore. "You can buy them almost any place online — Amazon, Alibaba. It's a fact," Chen said.

Pearl River Mart was founded in 1971 by a group of Chinese student activists to promote US-China cultural exchange. The store was located in various parts of Manhattan before settling into its current SoHo location in 2003.

Ming Yi Chen, the founder, came to the US as a student from Taiwan, getting a post-doctorate degree in chemistry from Wisconsin University. After graduating he decided to "do something different", his wife said. "This was the chance he saw together with the other old Chinese immigrants from Chinatown."

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