Inflation and supply chain issues are forcing stores in Chinatown to raise prices. : NPR


Alice Liu, second generation owner of Grand Tea and Imports.

Camille Petersen for NPR


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Inflation and supply chain issues are forcing stores in Chinatown to raise prices. : NPR

Alice Liu, second generation owner of Grand Tea and Imports.

Camille Petersen for NPR

Inside Grand Tea and Imports, a cultural store in Manhattan’s Chinatown, there are glistening floor-to-ceiling shelves of tea, incense and products for the Buddhist holiday – like paper shoes left on the graves of ancestors during the annual grave-sweeping festival.

“We usually sell it at $3.99. It’s gone up a bit to $6 now,” says Alice Liu, second-generation owner of Grand Tea and Imports.

Although inflation affects all sectors of the economy, it has created a particularly difficult headache for businesses in Chinatown.

Many of them rely on selling lots, at low prices, to make a profit. But buying and shipping inventory is much more expensive now, so stores like Grand Tea and Imports have had to raise their prices.

“You can’t rely on the old model anymore,” says Alice Liu.

The store had to put up a sign near the register telling customers it can no longer offer discounts or negotiate prices because the cost of doing business is just too high.

Inflation and supply chain issues are forcing stores in Chinatown to raise prices. : NPR

Storefronts in Manhattan’s Chinatown.

Camille Petersen for NPR


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Camille Petersen for NPR

Part of the challenge for businesses in the neighborhood is that many of them source from Asia. COVID-19 lockdowns and closed ports are limiting supplies there and delaying shipments, driving up prices.

Liu says she found creative ways to get inventory, like asking her sister, Karen, to bring suitcases of tea and incense from Hong Kong when she visits.

“It’s just more reliable, because you know when Karen is coming and when she’s coming. Whereas like the courier, we sent a package of tea from China a month and a half ago, and we’re still waiting for it. . “

Liu says what’s particularly frustrating is that supply is so hard to come by, just as demand has finally started to come back.

At Golden Diner, a restaurant in Chinatown, owner Sam Yoo says he also had to raise prices. From canola oil to limes, almost every ingredient is more expensive. He used to be able to keep prices lower by working with neighborhood suppliers instead of big distributors. But these vendors now have limited inventory, so their the prices were raised.

Inflation and supply chain issues are forcing stores in Chinatown to raise prices. : NPR

Sam Yoo, owner of Golden Diner, a restaurant in Chinatown.

Camille Petersen for NPR


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Camille Petersen for NPR

Inflation and supply chain issues are forcing stores in Chinatown to raise prices. : NPR

Sam Yoo, owner of Golden Diner, a restaurant in Chinatown.

Camille Petersen for NPR

“These competitive advantages no longer exist because they must their ends meet,” Yoo says.

Even as Chinatown businesses navigate an international economic conundrum, many still feel guilty about raising prices.

“The median income in Chinatown is around $34,000, so these price increases are making a difference,” says Vic Lee, co-founder of Welcome to Chinatown, a community-based nonprofit.

Business owners know that residents rely on products to be affordable. But Lee says goods inflation isn’t the only thing putting pressure on prices. Rents and labor costs are also rising. Rising anti-Asian hatred has prompted businesses to limit their hours of operation – and revenue – because employees fear for their safety at night.

“How much more can these businesses handle? Because the community is extremely resilient and these business owners have put so much courage into it, but there are times when it feels like the odds are stacked against them. “, says Lee.


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