Group with masks in front of Pearl River Mart Tribeca after reopning

Pearl River in 2020: Surviving the Impossible Year

To say that 2020 was like no other is an understatement. The pandemic, xenophobia toward Chinatowns across the world, anti-Asian hatred and violence, shutdowns, civil unrest, a recovery that only lead into a second wave, the hope of vaccines, and an election that seems to point to a new day.

As a 49-year-old small business, we’re used to pivoting, but what was pivoting on a long-term basis became this year a nearly everyday occurrence. Planning ahead was difficult as we never knew if some piece of news or breakthrough or decision would upend what we had carefully planned. 

However, what we could count on all along the way was you — our loyal customers, our enthusiastic fans, our Pearl River fam. Your support and encouragement are what have kept us going during our half-century of being in business, and during what has proven to be the most difficult of years. So as we look back at 2020, we do so through a lens of celebration, seeking those rays of light.

A Chinatown Odyssey by Jerry Ma

Jerry Ma at the opening reception of his art exhibition, A Chinatown Odyssey

The year started out with this fun and vibrant art exhibition from graphic novel artist Jerry Ma. Told through smart, humorous, and intrciately detailed illustrations, A Chinatown Odyssey is a modern retelling of a classic Chinese story. Transported to 1980s Manhattan Chinatown, the mythic Monkey King and his otherworldly cronies embark on various misadventures, including fighting for dim sum, kidnapping the famous Chinatown Arcade chicken, and celebrating the Year of the Rat.

Ringing in the Year of the Rat

Ling dancing during the Lunar New Year extravaganza at Chelsea Market

Speaking of which, as always we rang in the Lunar New Year with much fanfare, from the raucous opening reception of A Chinatown Odyssey, to decking out Chelsea Market, to fun segments with Roger Clark of NY1 and Cindy Hsu of CBS, to a dumpling demo and lantern welcoming at our TriBeCa store, to our annual extravaganza.

Against All Odds: Asian Women Who Dared to Be Great by Kelly Lan and Bo Feng Lin

Curator Kelly Lan and artist Bo Feng Lin at opening reception of Against All Odds

We honored Women’s History Month with this exhibition curated by Kelly Lan and featuring stunning portraiture by Bo Feng Lin. Against All Odds shares the stories of six incredible Asian and Asian American women — from a pilot to a doctor to an empress — who dared to strive against the odds stacked against them and achieve something great. 

Celebrating Chinatown Restaurants

Pearl River staff celebrates Lung Moon bakery with egg tarts

There’s no denying that Chinatowns everywhere suffered long before the pandemic hit. Manhattan’s Chinatown saw a downturn in business as early as Lunar New Year in January, normally the busiest time of the year.

This inspired us to shout out some of our favorite eateries, like venerable dim sum palace Jing Fong, tofu family business Fong On, bakeries Lung Moon (RIP) and Mei Li Wah, famed tea parlor Nom Wah, and cult favorite Wo Hop.

Snack Madness Championships 

Still from Snack Madness video

Although March Madness was canceled, we held our own championship: Snack Madness, in which some of our favorite treats went head to head for the snack championship. It was so much fun, we decided to do it again over the summer.

Mask Drive

Mr. Chen holding a box of masks

When Pearl River President Joanne Kwong heard that medical professionals on the front lines in NYC were in desperate need of personal protective equipment, she decided to do something about it. Hence, the Pearl River Mart Mask Drive

Thanks to generous donors, we were able to raise $50,000 in just six days, and as a result were able to donate PPE to staff in Elmhurst Hospital, one of the hardest hit in the city. Since then, thanks to the generosity of our customers and friends, we have been able to raise $70,000 to distribute 25,000 KN95 masks as well as assorted surgical masks, gloves, and food items from several of our small business friends, including Fatwitch Bakery, Tea & Milk, and 10 Thousand Foxes.

Read even more about the drive.

Black lives matter.

Chinese calligraphy saying Black lives matter

Thoughts and wishes from one small business.

The Pearl River Mart chop

Artist Vincent Chong with Mrs. CHen and Joanne and PRM chop

One thing we learned during these months was that even the smallest things could bring us joy. Like the new Pearl River Mart chop designed in close partnership with talented artist and dear friend Vincent Chong. Not only did he hand carve the engraved seal (a skill he learned while studying abroad in Taiwan), he recorded the whole thing. You can watch the whole process in its soothing entirety.

The Chinatown Collection 

Chinatown Collection graphic with dragon and "Support Chinatown"

Pandemic, schmandemic. Why not launch a new merch collection? Especially if it benefits small businesses and charitable initiatives in Chinatown. In partnership with grassroots organization, Welcome to Chinatown, we launched the first drop of the Collection in August with merch from neighborhood favorites Nom Wah, Jing Fong, Hop Kee, Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, Xi’An Famous Foods, and Kopitiam. 

This was followed by a mini-launch for beloved eatery 88 Lan Zhou and a second drop last month, which includes items from Fong On, Sun’s Organic Garden, new merch from Jing Fong and Nom Wah, Send Chinatown Love, the Chinatown Mural Project (check out our interview with the project's co-founder, activist Karlin Chan), and more.

The Nom Wah Cookbook

Mr. Chen and Griffin holding the Nom Wah cookbook

In celebration of its 100th anniversary, famed tea parlor and dim sum go-to Nom Wah came out with a cookbook. Not only is it chock full of recipes for some of their most popular dishes, it includes stories from friends and neighbors, including Pearl River!

Chinatown Arts Week

Chinatown Arts Week ribbon dancers

With events and gatherings grinding to a halt for most of the year, we were delighted to be able to participate in Chinatown Arts Week thanks to longtime friend and frequent collaborator, Think!Chinatown. On a beautiful fall day, we enjoyed ribbon dancing, street art, and running into friends old and new.

Pearl River Mart Foods opens!

Interior of Pearl River Mart Foods

Miracle of miracles! Despite the pandemic, we were able to open our fourth location and second in Chelsea Market: Pearl River Mart Foods. We were so excited to introduce everyone to our featured vendors — Mao’s Bao, Kimbap Lab, and Tea & Milk — as well as our carefully curated collection of staples and specialty items from local businesses and independent purveyors.

Check out some fun behind-the-scene shenanigans, the ribbon cutting ceremony, mukbang time with Marcia Hu of Send Chinatown Love, and some lovely coverage from news outlets like The New York Times, Eater, Time Out New York, NY1, and more.

Farewell, Pearl River Mart Tribeca

Lunar New Year lion dancing in front of Pearl River Mart Tribeca store with crowd

It was with great sadness that we announced the imminent closure of our flagship location in Tribeca/Chinatown. Like many businesses, big and small, we weren’t able to survive the combination of economic devastation from the pandemic along with an unmoving landlord.

While we’re heartbroken to leave this community, neighborhood, and our humble Asian American art gallery, we’re grateful to have our locations in Chelsea Market, a new location to be announced in the new year, and all of our customers cheering, encouraging, and supporting us along the way. Jia you!

Light Up Chinatown

Lanterns on Mott Street in Manhattan Chinatown

We were so happy to end the year on a bright note — literally! The brainchild of 46 Mott manager Patrick Mock, Light Up Chinatown is an installation of hand-painted lanterns illuminating Mott Street. The project was made possible thanks to Jenny Lam Low, Send Chinatown Love, Winston Chiu, Chung Seto, and generous donors like the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, Asian Americans for Equality, Con Edison, and (surprise twist!) Will Smith who wanted to reward Patrick for his many contributions to the community.

It was a delight for us to work with Think!Chinatown, the New York Chinese Cultural Center, and their talented artists to design a beautiful and joyful installation. We hope everyone in the New York area comes down to enjoy the beautiful lights, frequent their favorite restaurants and shops, and appreciate friends and neighbors in Chinatown.

From our family to yours, here's to a happy, healthy, and hopeful 2021!

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