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Wall Street Journal / Biz - Money

NYC’s Pearl River Mart Will Expand to Chelsea Market

Pearl River Mart, once a casualty of skyrocketing retail rents, is planning to open another 3,500 square-foot store at Chelsea Market in Manhattan.


Keiko Morris

Pearl River Mart, once a casualty of Manhattan’s skyrocketing retail rents, is now in expansion mode.

The eclectic Asian-goods emporium only last November reopened in Tribeca after annual rent at its former SoHo home was about to increase from more than $1 million to $6 million, said Joanne Kwong, Pearl River’s president and daughter-in-law of founder Ming Yi Chen.

Now, the family-run retailer is planning to open another 3,500 square-foot store at Chelsea Market, a collection of mostly independent specialty shops and food vendors at the base of a former industrial building at 75 Ninth Ave. in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood.

Pearl River has signed a 12-year lease, but details on the rent costs weren’t available.

These days Pearl River Mart, which has been operated by Mr. Chen and his wife, Ching Yeh Chen for the last several decades, has found itself pursued by landlords looking for distinctive retailers that stand apart from cookie-cutter chain stores.

In this case, Pearl River fit perfectly with Chelsea Market’s longstanding ethos, which is focused on local, independent enterprises that often are family-run, said Michael Phillips, president of Jamestown, the building’s owner.

“Pearl River has been a number one pursuit the whole time we’ve owned the building, because it is fundamentally a New York business, a local business, a second-generation business,” Mr. Phillips said.

After the recession, retail rents escalated in most of Manhattan’s shopping corridors, sometimes forcing independent retailers to move when their leases expired. But with online shopping pressures increasing, the run-up in rents was unsustainable.

A number of Manhattan’s well-known shopping districts, including Pearl River’s old SoHo neighborhood, are pockmarked with “for lease” signs. In the second quarter, SoHo’s retail availability rate was 23% and asking rents fell almost 14% to $478 a square foot, according to real-estate services firm Cushman & Wakefield.

“Developers and places like Chelsea Market appreciate retailers that have some type of color to them,” Ms. Kwong said. “A store like Pearl River is kind of like New York in a way. It’s colorful, very energetic and quirky.”

At the second location, Ms. Kwong is planning to create a retail experience with performances, talks, cultural activities and food events.

Pearl River’s executives always knew that they would have to open new stores and expand their digital presence to thrive, Ms. Kwong said. The opportunity to open at Chelsea Market came sooner than expected but was one they couldn’t pass up.

“For a retailer to have access to that much foot traffic is a dream come true,” Ms. Kwong said.

Write to Keiko Morris at Keiko.Morris@wsj.com