NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – As a child, Joanne Kwong looked forward to trips to Pearl River Mart.
“It was one of those stores where kids were kind of lucky to get to go to if you were good,” she said.
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In those days, she was most interested in the candy and toys. But the store is also widely known for its housewares and art.
“It’s like an Asian American wonderland emporium,” she said. “It’s just a place where New Yorkers—for five decades, really—have bought things to make their home feel more like home.”
Years later, she wound up marrying the son of Pearl River’s founder Ming Yi Chen and his wife Ching Yeh Chen. Joanne is now the president and second-generation owner of a family business with significant history.
“It was the first Chinese American department store when relations normalized in 1971,” she said.
In those uncertain times, Ming Yi took a risk trying something new, importing goods from his native China to his new home in the U.S.
“I felt we should do something to help bring the two countries together,” he said.
Since then, the inventory has expanded beyond strictly Chinese goods to incorporate a range of Asian items, including Nepalese fabrics and Japanese snacks.
Over the decades, the shop has suffered setbacks, including rent hikes that forced numerous closures and relocations. When their massive Tribeca flagship shuttered in 2016, it seemed the story of Pearl River would finally end for good.READ MORE: Ben 'Moody' Harney Helms NYC's Only Oyster Cart
It was then that Joanne decided to step in, quitting her job as a lawyer and joining her parents-in-law to find a new space.
They now work side-by-side to keep the New York institution standing strong.
“It’s important to have these pillars in the community,” Joanne said.
In addition to the Broadway storefront, Pearl River has a spot inside Chelsea Market.
Ching Yeh credits her daughter-in-law for Pearl River’s rebirth.
“It’s really a chapter two,” Ching Yeh said.
She knows that, for her family, making money has never been the mission.
“What we’re doing is more than just business; we are trying to build a bridge between the two countries,” she said.
Pearl River Mart
New York, NY 10013
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