Lee Chan’s Shop Adds Fun to Chinatown 

Uniqulee (Photo by April Xu via Sing Tao Daily)

Uniqulee (Photo by April Xu via Sing Tao Daily)

On Mott Street, where gift shops and restaurants are concentrated, Uniqulee looks, just like its name, unique and even a little out of place. A blackboard outside of the door welcomes customers in a tongue-in-cheek way. A crystal chandelier dangles from the ceiling. Stepping in you’ll see a century-old wooden table carved with flowers and many more interesting crafts the owner collected around the world. “What I sell here is not merchandise but a lifestyle,” said Lee Chan, the owner.

Chan opened her shop here last August. It has already attracted a lot of positive feedback. Chan won a “rising entrepreneur” award from the Chinatown BID in its annual gala recently. Its special approach and targeted market may also make it a good model for other potential businesses in Chinatown.

The Hong Kong-born Chan came to the U.S. with her parents when she was 7. Chinatown was their first stop. Although the family only lived here for a year, Chan considers Chinatown a home for which she has special feelings.

Chan got the inspiration for the shop from her daughter. Last summer, Chan took her 16-year-old daughter shopping in Chinatown. While they were wandering around, the daughter complained: “Mom, why aren’t there fun shops in Chinatown? You cannot get anything here that you are not able to get somewhere else.” Chan, who had been working in marketing in the luxury jewelry industry for 20 years, had her eureka moment. She spent a week doing market research in Chinatown before she opened Uniquelee at 36 Mott St. “I didn’t think much. I just had the intuition that Chinatown needs a shop like this,” said Chan.

Chan likes traveling around the world. Through her years of traveling, she has formed a special taste for handcrafts and memorabilia and collected many fine pieces. Still, seeing her business thrive surprised her because she never advertises. “Our customers are our best advertisements. New customers always find us by word of mouth.”

Lee Chan, owner of Uniqulee (Photo by April Xu via Sing Tao Daily)

Lee Chan, owner of Uniqulee (Photo by April Xu via Sing Tao Daily)

Running her first business on her own, Chan puts in a lot of work. She rearranges the display in the shop every month in order to “offer old customers some new touch every time they come back.” She offer candies to children who come shopping with their parents. She remembers every customer’s preference and their personal stories. “I don’t force them to buy or promote certain goods to them. I just want to build a relationship with my customers as I would with my neighbors,” said Chan.

Still, what brings customers back are her collections. Chan is confident of her own taste and her persistence in getting what she likes. She went to India to search for beautiful stones that had been polished by flowing water for a hundred years. She spent six months collecting three antique watch chains and merging them into one necklace. She also managed to acquire a handbag that is more than a hundred years old. “Things I like are often things most people would like. That’s why our goods don’t stay long in the shop. Whatever we put on the shelves is always sold quickly,” said Chan.

In Chan’s view, Uniquelee is a lens to the world. Through it, customers are able to see some special things that do not exist in New York or at the present time. “What I want to promote to my customers is a view of life that is curious, tolerant and appreciative of a diverse world and the new things in such a world,” said Chan.

Chan also believes entrepreneurs don’t have to worry about not having customers as long as they are enthusiastic about what they do, willing to work hard and know the needs of customers. As for her own future, Chan said she doesn’t think too much about it. “If everything is well planned, life would be boring,” she said.

2 Comments

  1. It’s too bad the owner Lee Chan is a raging monster who ridicules her customers.

  2. LeeChanIzAnAsshole says:

    @Jessica

    Tell me about it! She’s an utter and complete asshole.

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