Six years ago, when Philip Chong first began dreaming of plans for a family-owned building on Canal Street, he was determined to bring something new to Chinatown. His dad, though, took a little convincing. “My father was adamant that he wanted another flea market/souvenir shop,” says Chong. “His words were essentially, ‘Don’t fight the current. If that’s what’s working on Canal Street, then just do it.’ I took some of that and said, ‘We can do that, but we can do it in a much better way.’ ”
The result was Canal Street Market, a 12,000-square-foot food hall–cum–retail bazaar that opened its retail side in December. On Monday, the market’s dozen food stalls finally followed suit.
About half the stalls — which are arranged in a perch-and-eat fashion — offer Asian-inspired foods, such as Korean BBQ mash-ups from Oppa, streamlined Chinese takeout at Nom Wah Kuai, and a Japanese collaboration between The Izakaya in the East Village and the Japanese rice chain Samurice, the latter of which introduces drip-style miso soup to American audiences.
Chong notes that although “people try to pigeonhole us as an Asian food hall, we have a lot of different offerings.” And so, alongside stalls from Boba Guys, Uma Temakeria, and Ippudo off-shoot Kuro Obi, visitors will find outposts of Ilili, Fresh&Co., and Davey’s Ice Cream. And the CSM Lab, situated toward the back of the space, will host a rotation of food vendors and guest chefs, with Petee’s Pie Company, selling seasonal sweet and savory pastries, installed for the summer. “[Most of the food stalls] have ties to downtown New York, and that was really important to me,” says Chong. He adds that the food selection also took into account what was needed within the community, resulting in his own brainchild Lulu, a superfoods-inspired smoothie bar.
Chong’s family roots in Chinatown go back thirty years, and he remembers well when the bustling block off of Canal between Broadway and Lafayette housed rows of souvenir stalls. “It was a flea market on Canal Street that used to span from Canal to Howard Street — it was crazy, absolutely insane,” he says. For the ground-floor space that is now Canal Street Market, he considered ideas ranging from a gourmet grocery store to a skate park.
“We always knew that if it was going to be retail, it would be in a similar format that you see on Canal Street: multi-vendor, chopped up into a million pieces. It just wouldn’t have the same look and feel,” says Chong. The “we” refers to his partner Dasha Faires, the creative director of the operation and a fashion industry veteran who is largely responsible for the venture’s retail side, with its evolving roster of tenants. Gathered on one side of the market’s airy, loft-like space, the retail component encompasses more than twenty stalls, lined with birchwood planks. Vendors sign one-month minimum leases, making the market an incubator expansion stage for many small creative brands.
“If we were offering only one-year leases, we wouldn’t be able to have some of these teeny-tiny companies,” explains Faires, who was inspired by cult lifestyle brands like Sight Unseen and Need Supply Co., the former of which curated a recent exhibition in the 200-square-foot glass enclosure the market uses for two-week-long artists-in-residence. “There’s so much rollover, but we wanted to do that,” says Faires. Chong agrees, adding, “When there’s turnover, there’s new opportunity for all these new stories to come out, and we love the idea of there being so many stories within this space.”
The retail stalls focus on what Faires refers to as “affordable luxury” — among them, Fox Fodder Farm, which sells flowers by the stem for grab-and-go bouquets, and textile design studio Haptic Lab, which sells hand-crafted wood-framed kites (and gives away maps of the best illegal spots for flying a kite in the city). The prices are mostly modest, a primary consideration given the bargain-hunting legacy of the area. Though pricing is ultimately left to the individual vendors, Faires says the majority of retailers carry goods sold at a price point well below $100, while Chong says food stalls will stick to a maximum pricing of $15, with most items falling under $10.
The duo has hopes to launch a second location at some point, though “any future iteration of this has to tell the story of whatever neighborhood it’s in,” notes Chong. And plans to offer alcohol are being considered, as they keep a watchful eye over the dinnertime crowd. “If it starts getting as busy as the lunchtime crowd, who knows, maybe we’re onto something here,” says Faires, shrugging.
This is the first project of this magnitude for the partners, who met through friends while working in the neighborhood. They’re quick to point out how pleased they are with the reception they’ve received from the community. “I was really happy when my dad’s group of friends were here, that first generation of Chinatown O.G.s who were coming up to me and saying, ‘What you’re doing right now is really going to change Chinatown for decades on,’ ” says Chong. “And that made me super proud. For us, a concept like this — that feels like this, that looks like this — doesn’t exist elsewhere in New York City. To do it here is really special.”
Canal Street Market
265 Canal Street