Even though times are tough and New York’s Chinatown is on the verge of dying, there is one place where things appear to be mostly the same as they have always been.
Since Mei Lum started volunteering as a child, Wing on Wo & Co has been run by her family. Brilliant and creative heritage enterprises have withstood generations of economic ups and downs. Mei represents her family’s legacy and New Yorkers and future generations of Chinatown residents.
The 32-year-old fifth-generation owner has bigger plans. Mei revived Wing on Wo’s late-19th-century ambiance. The store was a meeting place, credit union, and informal post office for low-income Chinese employees during the Chinese Exclusion Act.
She wants to run things because she has always wanted to expand the store’s conceptual boundaries. “A business doesn’t have to be so economically driven. There can still be genuine connections, which sustain a community,” she told The Guardian.
Wing on Wo is still primarily run by the original family for over a century. For 30 years, Mei’s father Gary has chatted with clients at the counter. Lorraine, her mother, handles the website and order processing. Her 105-year-old grandmother, Nancy, promotes the store’s hand-painted wine cups, fish-shaped glazed vases, and elegant dinner plates on Instagram.
In 2016, her grandmother intended to sell the family-owned porcelain specialty shop, which was worth close to $10 million. Mei took over the business to preserve it and create a community hub. She was planning to study international relations at Columbia University, but she now wants to run the family business. She wanted the store to be a hub for activists and artists to fight gentrification and displacement.
As a result of the pandemic, Mei decided to focus her efforts on online sales, digital advertising, and social media. To ensure that the business is preserving tradition and shaping the future of Chinatown, she has added several new initiatives, such as youth programs, an artist residency, and a ceramicist fair.