The rent, as they say, was too high. In another sign of changing times and shifting store fronts, Pearl River Mart is shuttering its doors at the end of this year.
The store, which moved to its present location on Broadway in 2001, spent 44 years supplying hipsters, hippies, and tourists alike with imports from China ranging from kitschy Little Red Books to esoteric teas and herbs.
Started by a group of young student radicals in the 1970s, the store grew to its current incarnation taking up tens of thousands of square feet of some of the planet’s most prime real estate. Pearl River currently pays $100,000 a month, which would increase to five times that when the lease expires in December.
Founder and co-owner Ming Yi Chen was sentimental but practical about the store’s closing.
“The feelings not so good. When the time’s up and you have no choice, you have to leave or move, to make sure you can survive in this environment.” Chen told NBC News.
"Now the younger generation customer, they are looking for something new."
After years in the business, he saw the neighborhood and the main drag on Broadway explode into something altogether unexpected. And as the city changed, so did his customers.
"Now the younger generation customer, they are looking for something new. Any new item they’re interested.” he said. "“Not like customers before, they have a lot of memories, they love the culture-rich items."
Already the curious and the nostalgic are stopping by, eager to soak up the store's goods and vibes before they’re liquidated. Meanwhile online, thoughtful essays are being penned, recalling the revolutionary (in both a business and political sense) beginnings of the store.
"As a Friendship Store, Pearl River was one of the first to offload crates of goods shipped in under newly loosened trade restrictions. It was part Fair Trade diplomacy, part nationalist enterprise, part Asian bodega, and totally New York City,” wrote Michelle Chen, a writer and self-proclaimed “honorary employee” of Pearl River Mart.
But the Pearl River may continue to flow, albeit in a new form. There are efforts to expand its online store, which currently handles just a fraction of the items the brick and mortar shop carries. Still, times are different from when the Friendship Store first opened.
“We are moving [to catch up],” said co-owner Chen about Pearl River's e-commerce efforts. “But the other people are moving even faster."