Tuck High Company, found at the City of Neighborhoods exhibition at the New York State Museum (222 Madison Ave, Albany, NY 12230) is a recreation of a store that was once on 24 Mott Street in Chinatown of the lower east side of Manhattan. Many Chinese immigrants came to the United States during the 1850s because of the California Gold Rush and settled down throughout the country. Tuck High Company was an import and export store for products such as herbs, medicinal teas, and other products used in traditional Chinese medicine that would be difficult to obtain for immigrants living on the east coast of the United States.
The store is made to look as if it was built in the 1930’s, when Tuck High Company originally opened. The store later closed in 1979. Viewers who see the recreation can see how incredibly busy the small shop was with all the goods found in the windows and the chute for employees to transfer items to and from the basement. Unfortunately, I was not able to walk inside the store and feel what it was like to be a customer of the establishment.
When I initially walking by the store, I immediately felt a sense of familiarity but also some despair. The store is an important part of history of Chinese culture and the early journeys of immigrants to the United States. There are pictures of the Lee family and descriptions of what happened year to year to Tuck High Company, but they left a very important aspect that is relevant today. Many of the pieces found inside this recreation of the store were sold to the New York State Museum. The Lee family had to do this because they could no longer afford the increasing rent. They understood the historic importance of the store with an established business that would be vital to the Chinese community, but the rent had to have been the most determining factor for closing the shop.
Chinatown is starting to disappear. Stores have been starting to vanish. Rent has been increasing for small stores and for housing as well, forcing many Chinese people to leave Chinatown. Most recently the East Broadway Mall has been struggling due to financial burden and lack of cooperation from the city. Mott Street along with other blocks have become less friendly to non-English speaking Chinese. Many of the street signs which had Chinese characters have been removed, making it more difficult for non-English speakers to commute. These English only signs were originally changed to bilingual signs for Chinese locals to accommodate for the increasing community in the 80’s; however, the opposite is happening now.
It is incredibly sad to see what is happening to Chinatown. I have been coming to Chinatown to see family and going to local shops in the areas since I was a child. What would I go down to Chinatown for in the future if it is starting to disappear and my extended family will be forcibly kicked out? I felt a great deal of despair seeing that Tuck High Company was from the most flourishing time of Chinatown and that I will never be able to see anything like it again in the foreseeable future.