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The River Rolls On

The iconic Pearl River Mart continues its four-decade long mission of promoting Chinese goods and culture in New York.

By Xie Yi Updated Jun.12

In 1971, when diplomatic relations between China and the United States were frozen and direct trade was strictly forbidden, a group of young overseas Chinese decided that China had much to offer America and worked together to open a small “friendship” store named Pearl River Mart in New York City's Chinatown. The store opened a window to China for New Yorkers and offered them a chance to see Chinese goods and culture first-hand. In the following 40 years, Pearl River Mart has grown into a symbol of cultural communication and creativity.

In early 2016, Pearl River Mart closed due to the skyrocketing rents caused by gentrification in the New York Chinatown neighborhood. Joanne Kwong, daughter-in-law of the co-founder Ming Yi Chen, decided to quit her job and take up her family's mantle as the new president of the store. In November, Pearl River Mart reopened in TriBeCa.

In this interview, Joanne talks about the history of Pearl River Mart, the significance of the store to the Chinese American community, the store's survival of gentrification and the prospects of physical retail in the digital age.