Jan Lee finished packing the contents of his antique shop on Sunday, reminiscing how Mott Street bustled when he opened Sinotique 18 years ago with neighbors like Sun Hop Shing Tea House, Sweet’n’Tart, 32 Mott Street General Store, and Sun Lok Kee.
He’s watched shops come and go on this iconic Chinatown block through the years, but he’s never seen what’s going on now — eight vacant stores within half a block at the base of Mott Street near Park Row.
“It’s unusual to have so many empty stores in such a concentrated area,” said Lee, whose family has been on Mott Street since the turn of the 20th century. “Mott Street is no longer the core of Chinatown. …The epicenter has shifted to Canal Street.”
Indeed, on a recent Sunday the sidewalk near Lee’s store at 19 Mott St. was quiet, while Canal’s sidewalks were overflowing. Some store owners blamed new construction that kicked out popular restaurants and added blight to the street. Lee implicated closure of Park Row that deflected tour bus routes and the shuttering of a 400-spot municipal garage that provided parking for these buses and out-of-town shoppers. Tourists now cluster at the bakeries on Mott just off of Canal near the illegal handbag vendors.
Sinotique has the luxury of reopening in Dumbo, where Lee has a warehouse and workshop — and available street parking, he points out. But others may not be as lucky.
Elaine Wong’s 15-year-old clothing boutique next to Lee’s shop was empty while a few blocks away, Canal’s counterfeit sellers were abuzz.
“After 9/11, it was slow, down 20 to 30 percent. But in the last year, it’s a 70 percent slowdown,” she said. “I don’t know how long I can stay.”