By Aleksandra Michalska
Dec 30 (Reuters) - Pearl River Mart, New York Chinatown's landmark emporium for everything Asian since 1971, will close its flagship store in early 2021 as the pandemic has left the family owners unable to pay the rent.
"We just were not able to come to an agreement with our landlord," said Pearl River President Joanne Kwong, who left her career as a communications executive and attorney to take over the business in 2016.
"In the next 18 months to two years, it's going to take partnership between small businesses and their landlords in order to survive the pandemic," she added.
Pearl River was founded by Kwong's in-laws who arrived as graduate students from Taiwan at a time when Communist China was shrouded in mystery for most Americans.
Since then, the emporium has "figured into many a New Yorker's origin story, furnishing countless apartments, restaurants, wedding venues, and movie sets; inspiring myriad waves of designers, artists, and tastemakers," Kwong said in a farewell blogpost. The latest location for the flagship store is in Tribeca, in Lower Manhattan. It has also been a venue for free shows, talks, tastings, and 24 exhibitions in its Asian American art gallery.
Rose Moy has been a customer since the 1970s, through the store's five moves prompted by rent hikes. "You want beautiful things as gifts for yourself? This is a place that," she said.
Katie Morita, who lives in Montclair, New Jersey, traveled to the Tribeca store with her two daughters for their final visit.
"Myself and my two daughters have been going here since they were babies, so we're really sad," Morita said. "It's been such a big part of our lives, just buying things for our home. And it's made us very happy."
Seventy-four percent of American small business owners said they need further government assistance to weather the pandemic, according to a U.S. Chamber-MetLife poll from Oct. 30 to Nov. 10. That percentage rises to 81% for minority-owned businesses.
The Big Apple could lose as much as 33% of its 233,000 small businesses due to the pandemic, and as many as over half a million jobs, according to a study from Partnership for New York City, a nonprofit group.
Kwong is not giving up, after opening an outlet at the Museum of Chinese in America, another store, and a food outlet in the Chelsea Market.
A new flagship location has been found, and she hopes to make an announcement in early 2021. (Reporting by Reuters Television; Writing by Richard Chang; Editing by David Gregorio)
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