As for Pearl River, Ming Yi Chen opened his clothing and housewares business with friends in 1971 after immigrating from Taiwan and earning a Ph.D. in chemistry at the University of Chicago. Now he and his wife, along with Ms. Kwong, their daughter-in-law, run the business together.
They had sunk savings into the TriBeCa store, hoping to be there for many years. The company also went into the pandemic with a satellite shop at the Museum of Chinese in America and an outpost at Chelsea Market. They opened a long-planned second shop there stocked with food products last October.
Even before the pandemic, though, as brick-and-mortar stores foundered because of competition from Amazon, the Chens and Ms. Kwong sought for a rent reduction at the TriBeCa flagship. But the health crisis interrupted negotiations, and Pearl River, like so many other stores across the city, was forced to close during the lockdown and furlough staff.
Even as the store struggled, its owners organized a fund-raiser that brought in $70,000 to import Chinese masks for frontline workers when P.P.E. was difficult to obtain last spring. This winter, they helped orchestrate New Year festivities in Chinatown — which has been hard hit by the decline in tourism and by anti-Asian racism — stringing lanterns to enliven the streets in the hopes of enticing customers back and making the area feel more secure. “It’s been over a year we’ve been worrying about safety, especially for elders,” Ms. Kwong said.
Now others are coming to Pearl River’s rescue.
When the business decided it had to give up its primary location in TriBeCa, longtime shoppers were vocal about their disappointment. The owners resolved to rebuild their flagship somewhere, somehow.
Ms. Kwong initially ruled out Ms. Margolis’s building because the asking rent was much too high. But Ms. Kwong’s real estate broker felt like there was room to negotiate.
These days many landlords in SoHo, desperate to fill empty storefronts, are slashing rents but offering only short-term leases, in the hope that they can raise rates again when the city’s economy recovers, said Paul Popkin, who was Ms. Kwong’s broker on the deal and is the senior managing director at Lee & Associates NYC.