Chinese Wholesalers Replacing Koreans on Broadway

The Korean business owners who built and developed the wholesale shopping area on Broadway starting in the 1960s are being displaced by Chinese wholesalers who can offer cheaper prices, the Korea Times reported. The article was translated from Korean.

Starting in the 1960s and 1970s, Koreans built a large wholesale shopping area on Broadway, in Manhattan. But now, little by little, Chinese retailers are replacing them, flooding the area with cheap accessories imported from China.

Chinese wholesale stores on Broadway (Photo via Korea Times)

Many Chinese establishments began to make inroads in the Manhattan wholesale business in the early 2000s. During the last decade, the number of Chinese shops has increased rapidly, while many Korean have shut down their business. Only 30% of wholesale shops left on Broadway, selling items like custom jewelry and wigs,  are Korean. In particularly, the proportion of Korean shops selling major accessories like bags, scarfs and belts have sharply dropped to less than 10%.

Jongchul Lee, who has run the bag shop “Daedo Trade” since the 1980s, said: “There were more than 15 Korean wholesale shops selling bags on Broadway. But after Chinese retailers came in the early 2000s, now there are few stores left. Currently, there are more than 50 shops run by Chinese on Broadway, just selling bags.”

In fact, most of the accessory wholesale shops on Sixth Ave. and 29th St., just a block away from Broadway, are Chinese run, except for one or two of them. The strength of the Chinese wholesale shops comes from the manufacturing factories. They have their own factories in China and run the shops in New York, so their prices are cheaper than in any other shops. Some Koreans have their factories in China too, but there are some limitation to compete with Chinese retailers.

Although Indians and Middle Easterners have some part of the Broadway wholesale shopping area to them, they are focusing on limited items, mainly watches and perfumes. Wholesale industry officials agree that the Chinese shops have gained commercial supremacy of Broadway.

An Korean wholesaler who didn’t want to give his name and has run a silver shop in Broadway for 20 years said: “There are no Korean newcomers doing business on Broadway. All the shops that close are being rented by Chinese.”

Koreans still dominate the custom jewelry business. But recently, Chinese businessmen are branching out to accessories and other items to avoid competition among themselves.

Charles Kim, manager of a fashion jewelry store said “ten years ago, when I started my business, it was hard to find any custom jewelry shops that were run by Chinese. However, one by one, they have become more prominent in recent years.”

Byung Mok Kang, president of the New York Society of Korean Businessmen, Inc. said: “Korean retailers who started their business on Broadway 20 to 30 years ago, are now retired or changed fields. Except for custom jewelry stores, most of the Korean wholesale shops will decrease gradually.”

Meanwhile, according to statistics from the Korea International Trade Association (KITA), the amount of Chinese exports to the U.S. increased sharply over the last decade. In 2002, Chinese exports to the U.S. amounted to $52.1 billion, which was less than Korea. But that number now reaches $324.3 billion, six times what it was 10 years ago.

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