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High Profile Chinatown Store to Close

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Sinotique_200 During the economic downturn, it has, of course, been commonplace to see shuttered businesses on the Lower East Side and in Chinatown. But a closing we heard about this week is especially significant. Sinotique, Jan Lee's antique, home furnishings and custom furniture store on Mott Street is shutting down its Manhattan location. Lee will reopen the store in DUMBO, where he already has a warehouse and workshop.

The Lee family has been a fixture on Mott Street since 1890. They own two tenement buildings between Mosco Street and Canal. The ground-floor store has gone through several incarnations. It was a laundromat, a shoe store and a dry good store, before Lee opened Sinotique in 1992. The decision to close has been a topic of conversation in the neighborhood this week not only because of the family's legacy in Chinatown but also because Lee is an outspoken community activist.

I stopped by the store yesterday to talk with Lee about the reasons for closing Sinotique. He said that his business, which had become a favorite destination for designers all over the city, never fully recovered from 9/11. Dozens of stores closed their doors since 2001, as foot traffic was drastically diminished, and permanent street closures made getting to businesses by car almost impossible.

He's been juggling the Manhattan and Brooklyn locations up until now, but it's been a struggle. While the family owns the space, there are still substantial operating costs that simply became too burdensome, especially as the recession dragged on. The space has been leased to a health insurance company. Lee said it was important to him that an unsavory business didn't go into the building.

In spite of the move to Brooklyn, the family will remain a major presence in Chinatown. Lee has helped lead the opposition to the city's reconfiguration of Chatham Square and campaigned vigorously for Bill Thompson. He considered running for City Council last year. In the months ahead, look for Lee to be opposing a campaign to expand the LES Business Improvement District into Chinatown.

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  1. For 6 LONG YEARS, Bloomberg turned a blind eye to swarms of civilian cars with Court Officer and NYPD parking permits swarming like roaches in Chinatown, taking every parking space, parking illegally. This was a major cause of Chinatown’s depression post-9/11 and Bloomberg let it happen. Bloomberg only seemed to care when his regressive congestion taxing scheeme needed an ill-fated boost. It was a HUGE mistake for NY’ers to let Bloomberg buy their souls. The DOT commissioner, Sadik-Khan was no better – she did absolutely nothing about illegal parking permit abuse, even with all the publicity – she could have and should have done something, but didn’t – Sadik-Khan deserves to get sacked – yesterday.

  2. One Police Headquarters’ land grab in Chinatown and the surrounding area after 9/11 severely impacted the local economy despite lawsuits filed by community activists. The takeover of every available parking space on the streets in Lower Manhattan by government permit abuse was astounding until the crackdown during the congestion pricing battles which exposed the fact that almost half the vehicles entering Manhattan were driven by those with free parking permits. Today, these commuter vehicles and illegal permits are creeping back. They contribute little to local businesses.
    Park Row and other street shutdowns made getting to Lower Manhattan extremely difficult including the rerouting of 4 or 5 bus routes that were only restored during Bloomberg’s 2005 re-election campaign. During this re-election campaign the battle to re-open Park Row was foiled by those who shamelessly sold out Chinatown by supporting Bloomberg’s re-election without a single give back to the community. The loss of the 400 car Municipal Garage at Police Headquarters all contributed to loss and turnover of over 3 dozen businesses after 9/11.

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