Fast Disappearing Chinese Laundries of New York City

A New York City blogger, Jeremiah Moss, who laments the vanishing landscape of long standing sites of New York City has described the closing of several Chinese laundries.   Moss noted that the Greenwich village Chinese laundry of Harry Chong that operated for 60 years no longer exists.

harry chong nyc

Similarly, Lee’s Laundry in Greenwich Village closed in 2009 after 30 years of operation.

Lee's laundry greenwich village

Another New York store, Chin’s Laundry and Dry Cleaning store was slated for sale in 2008.

Chin's 2008 nyc W 13th St]These are just examples of the disappearance of a business that one was ubiquitous but no longer easily found anymore.

If you look hard enough, however, you can still find a few Chinese laundries still in business as of 2014 such as the four below, but their days may be numbered so patronize them while you still can.

1503 white plains NY 2014 benny louie 2014 laundry  13th st nycchin laundry 199 nassau 110 Montague NYC 2014 chin hand laun

Chinese Laundrymen in New York United in the 1930s To Fight Racism

Chinese laundrymen faced racial discrimination all over the United States, but individual laundrymen lacked the ability, time,  and resources to mount any meaningful opposition. A notable exception was in New York City where several thousand Chinese laundrymen formed the Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance in  1933 to fight efforts led by white laundries to require citizenship as well as a hefty license fee for Chinese to operate a laundry. The dominant existing Chinese community organization, the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association was ineffective in countering these moves so laundrymen formed this grassroots organization to fight for the survival of Chinese laundries in New York City . It  also rallied financial and political support of China in its struggle against Japanese invasion of China in the early 1930s that led eventually to World War II.  When Communist China rose to power in 1949, the organization, with its leftist leanings, was suspected to be  subversive, leading to FBI investigation, harassment, and accusation of many Chinese in the organization.

A contemporary social activist in New York, Betty Yu, created a documentary, Discovering My Grandfather Through Mao, that describes how the Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance came into existence to fight the social injustices Chinese laundrymen in New York City faced during the Great Depression. The film skillfully and artistically blends Yu’s personal quest to discover details of the life of her grandfather who was active in the organization with a depiction of the social and historical context  that limited most early Chinese immigrants in the United States and Canada to work in the laundry business.