Pearl River Mart will close in the new year

In one of the greater losses to the neighborhood and the city from this god-awful pandemic, Pearl River Mart, the time-honored staple for everything Asian since 1971, will close its flagship store here soon after the new year. That’s five decades of not just creating a thriving business that employed hundreds over the years, but also advocating for Chinatown and its residents and businesses, supporting Chinese-American causes, and pivoting when the time seemed right.

The cause of death was rent.

“Our negotiations with the landlord have stalled and he has made clear his desire to use the courts to recoup every dollar he can, not just from our business, but from our personal assets,” wrote Joanne Kwong, the Chen’s daughter-in-law who started running the business in 2016, in a farewell blogpost. “With the future of our economy uncertain and little relief on the horizon for commercial tenants, it has become clear that we, along with thousands of other small businesses in NYC, have no other choice but to shut down….Somewhere, somehow, the system has become deeply and irrevocably broken for small businesses.”

Kwong did add a teaser to the very end of her note: the company has secured a location in the neighborhood, and will announce more after the holidays. So that helps.

The Chens opened the store as young graduate students, recently arrived from Taiwan, with minds towards politics in a way: they wanted to “puncture the shroud of mystery surrounding ‘Red China.'” At that point, Nixon had yet to meet with Mao and trade between the two countries was forbidden, yet the Chens were able to pick up a shipment of bottled soy sauce, Mao’s Little Red Book, cotton “kung fu” slippers and People’s Liberation Army caps at the Red Hook port in Brooklyn.

They moved several times over the decades, but the penultimate location was 10,000 square feet in Soho, just north of Canal. When the landlord there quintupled their rent in 2016 (from $1 million to $6 million), they almost called it quits until Joanne agreed to leave her job as counsel at Barnard College and run the company, moving it to its location now in Tribeca (see this year’s shopping guide here and here and that doesn’t come close to scratching the surface).

They have a small store at the Museum of Chinese in America and a store in the Chelsea Market, as well as new food market there that just opened this spring. Joanne launched a robust website over the past few years as well. For the next couple weeks, check the hours on Instagram.

And let’s hope that the tradition the Chens started in our neighborhood doesn’t end with this location for so many reasons, not the least of which is preserving the things we love best.

“Success, to me, is if Pearl River in the next 50 years was still around, healthy,” Joanne told MarketWatch in 2017, “and in a good place to be passed on to the next generation.”



  1. This is so sad and awful.

    • This is such a beautiful store.
      I’m going to miss it terribly.
      Fingers crossed for the smaller Chelsea location and hoping beyond hope they can reopen one day when all of this is over.

  2. I believe it was during the time when the US did not allowed goods from China to be imported directly. Pearl River was the first store to sell goods made in China by the route of transhipment via other countries like Canada.

    I can say with some pride that I visited the store’s first location at Catherine Street in Chinatown.

  3. Free Enterprise works both ways. Pearl River as I remember was on Canal Street just off Broadway. Each move has seemed
    to make them them stronger Hope their new move will help them
    continue well into the future….

  4. Thanks to Joanne, our family can set a killer dim sum table, has gifted many-many birthday/house-warming/white elephant/advent calendar presents, kept ourselves and guests in stylish slippers, and can pack an enviable picnic tiffin. I loved what Joanne was doing to feature emerging Chinese-American artists in the Walker St location – so cool and vibrant! Pearl River is a neighborhood staple that has supplied downtowners with household essentials for decades. The Chelsea location is a lot of fun, but I am hopeful that they will open a new spot when the dust settles.

  5. Landlords on their over priced commercial leases are destroying NYC unique character, which is incredibly short sided. We will be left with just big box stores and eating at McDonalds. Please Commercial Landlords think of what you are doing to our city before you completely destroy NYC character. This is Tumpian behavior. JCR

  6. This is very sad. We loved having this store in the neighborhood. I hope they can return some day.