Skip to content
Join our Newsletter
Join our Newsletter

'No life there now': Iconic Chinatown store bids community farewell after 27 years

Customers used to come here with $50 and leave with a boat load of goodies.

A long-standing family cookware business is opting to leave Chinatown this summer after 27 years of operation.

Tinland Cookware, at 260 E Pender St, is like a treasure hunt for those who enjoy food and cooking. With more than 10,000 affordable products to choose from, the store offers one of the widest selections of Asian cookware and food equipment in Vancouver.

The local kitchen store is a family business with a legacy of 70 years. Tin, the father of the Shum family, started the cookware business in Hong Kong in the 1950s to provide affordable quality products.

After the family immigrated to Vancouver in 1992, they carried on the family legacy. They continued to serve the local community by opening the Attinson store in Richmond in 1993, and a second location, Tinland, in Chinatown in 1994. 

However, the iconic kitchen store is bidding farewell to Vancouver’s Chinatown community and moving its business to Richmond altogether.

The reason for leaving? Public safety concerns — due to a combination of the drug-fuelled street disorder and pandemic-triggered increase in anti-Asian racism that has plagued the historic community in recent years.

“It’s just a bad situation over there. There is no life there now,” said Jin Li, who closed her Chinese Art Crafts store in Chinatown in 2020 after 15 years on East Pender.

Li told Glacier Media in a previous interview that before she shut down her business, thieves targeted the store many times and ran off with various items, with her boyfriend having to chase them on several occasions. Even worse, Li was once knocked to the ground after a man tried to steal a ninja sword.

Family-run Ultimate 24K Gold Company Ltd. also moved its business to Richmond in July 2020 after 28 years of operation.

“We’re a very traditional business, and if we have to leave, that’s a big shock to Chinatown because we’d been there for so long,” said Cici Yim, a member of the family that operated the store.

During COVID, Yim saw three break-ins of their store where some of the merchandise were lost and the store’s metal gate was irreparable damaged.

Last year on a weekday afternoon, Glacier Media counted 27 storefronts along Pender, between Columbia and Main streets, that were either vacant, behind locked metal gates or with “for lease” signs on them.

According to a previous report, between Jan. 1, 2016, and Jun. 15, 2021, Vancouver police statistics show that recorded crimes in Chinatown include 578 cases of car break-ins, 360 assaults and 239 burglaries of businesses.

Several shop owners told Glacier Media the same message: Chinatown looks dead and they are just “hanging on by a thread.” Some of them felt even more vulnerable than before as more stores closed and fewer shopkeepers to look out for each other in the area.

Last year, the Chinatown Business Improvement Association spent half of its annual budget — about $240,000 — on supplemental security for Chinatown.

“It’s so bad in all of Chinatown that everyone is afraid to come down here, and it’s not right that people have to live in fear,” said Fred Kwok, the president of the Chinese Benevolent Association.

“Feces, urine, graffiti, theft and break-ins are the modern-day racism against the Chinese community,” Kwok said at a forum last year. “All we want is to be treated fairly and equally. How many times must I endure the hateful slur thrown at my face as I walk through the streets that I consider my home for 40 years?”

Although Vancouver Police Department (VPD) has deployed more police resources and foot patrols in the neighbourhood, it is far from “fixing” the problem, said VPD Deputy Chief Howard Chow.

The VPD has pushed governments for years to respond better to the crises of mental illness, drug addiction and homelessness in Chinatown, but the lobbying has been like “pushing water uphill,” according to Chow.

It was “heartbreaking to see what’s happening in Chinatown,” Chow said in a tweet.

Tinland Cookware will close its Vancouver location on August 31.

With files from Mike Howell