Pivoting to on-line gross sales has been a household effort: Proprietor Mei Lum’s mom helps with the e-commerce, her father handles transport and packaging and her 91-year-old grandmother has grow to be an influencer.

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Wing On Wo opened its doorways in 1890. It practically closed them for good a couple of years in the past. That’s when the founder’s great-great-granddaughter, Mei Lum, began enthusiastic about her ’s legacy — and the way a lot its survival depended upon her. 

It occurred in an surprising method. In 2016, Lum met a girl who was researching gentrification in Chinatowns throughout the nation, and Lum was so within the venture that she started accompanying the lady on her interviews in . As she did, Lum, 30, started to consider the affect her family had on Chinatown’s character and . Their retailer, Wing On Wo, started as a normal retailer however developed right into a porcelain store. On the time, it was operated by her grandmother — however Grandma was 86, slowing down and couldn’t run the shop for much longer. 

Lum wished the store to remain open — and realized she had the facility to do it. “Letting go of Wing On Wo can be one thing very deeply unhappy for our household and our Chinatown group,” she says. She took over because the proprietor that yr. 

Wing On Wo has at all times been greater than a storefront. Rising up, Lum’s grandfather gave her Chinese language classes within the again workplace. As a teen, she helped with the money register and accompanied her grandparents on sourcing journeys to Hong Kong. The household has lengthy eaten dinner within the retailer’s kitchen.

An area within the basement hosts their artist residency program. Yearly, the household holds the Asian American Ceramists Honest, by which they invite a handful of modern ceramists to indicate their work within the area. Not too long ago, the shop donated 10 p.c of merchandise gross sales to Crimson Canary Music and Asian American Feminist Collective. “Every little thing I do is pushed by a social mission,” stated Lum. 


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Protecting an previous retailer open is difficult underneath any circumstances, however the previous yr actually examined Lum. Following the murders in Atlanta and the rising anti-Asian violence, Lum wished to make the store really feel like a secure area — simply because it was in its earliest days, when it offered refuge for latest Chinese language immigrants. However that hasn’t at all times been straightforward. The shop wasn’t capable of function usually, and, other than a couple of sidewalk pop-up outlets, a lot of its gross sales moved on-line.

Boosting has been a household effort. “That’s been the silver lining of transferring on this course,” stated Lum. “All of us rising to the event.” Lum’s mom, a sample and design maker, was laid off throughout the pandemic and now helps with the again finish. Lum’s father handles the transport and packaging. And her grandmother has stepped up as an influencer. Through the pandemic, Lum got here up with the thought of internet hosting an Story collection referred to as Po’s Picks. (Po means “grandma” in Chinese language.) Within the collection, her grandmother showcases her favourite items within the store. “She’s our 91-year-old advertising and marketing lady now,” stated Lum.

Although Lum has continued to take care of the store equally to the way it has operated for many years, she additionally believes it wants new life to outlive. “I’d joke with quite a lot of my associates, ‘It’s like, ha ha, I’m working at a 100-year-old startup,’” she says. 

As a fifth-generation proprietor, she has discovered to go together with her personal intuition and accepted that she wasn’t going to come back totally shaped into the function. Her members of the family reside inside a four-block radius of each other and are nonetheless concerned. Lum thinks of them extra as artistic collaborators fairly than workers. She needs the enterprise to adapt and develop—notably when it comes to rolling out e-commerce — and having the household’s blessing has helped inspire her.

“I don’t suppose I might have grown Wing On Wo with out the individuals who have been cheering me on and supporting me,” she says.