Fire! Goodbye to Hong Kong Supermarket in Chinatown

View from Henry St. and Pike St.

Last night the smoke I thought was from a neighbor grilling turned out to be from the biggest fire I have ever seen–at the end of my block. I watched for a few hours as Hong Kong Supermarket, a Chinatown landmark, and the apartment building attached to it burned down. It felt surreal, like a film noir movie in color: rain, mist, smoke, fire, trenchcoats and dramatic lighting. The streets were full of Chinese in pajamas and reporters with big cameras standing in the rain.

Unfortunately, the huge fire that drew trucks from across lower Manhattan destroyed these buildings. It was a 4 alarm fire (which is apparently a lot.) If it started in the bottom of the building next door, as the news reports, then my boyfriend and I were right to guess that it started as a kitchen fire in the subterranean Chinese restaurant.

Like a postman, I could carry on through smoke, and rain, and fire to our weekly ravels in review, but that seems decidedly anti-climatic. So let’s skip it and get to the photos:

The blaze kept coming back on the roof of Hong Kong Supermarket.

Water pouring out the back door of Hong Kong Supermarket as it is being hosed through the roof on the front.

At the intersection of Allen/Pike St. and East Broadway

Luckily the fire didn’t spread to the gas station across the street, or anymore buildings than Hong Kong Supermarket which, stuffed with packaging and boxes in an old warehouse, went up like a tinderbox.

This was taken at about 11:30, when the fire was under control and you could finally see through the smoke.

There were tons of photographers from the news there, and I even ended up on 1010Wins, a local station, myself (you have to listen to the audio to hear me).

I left the scene just before midnight and then couldn’t settle down until 2 AM, so I’m exhausted. I still can’t believe Hong Kong burned down. While there are no end of fruit and vegetable stands, nothing else in Manhattan’s Chinatown has that range of products. They imported all Asian products, so that the ramen you bought there was packaged in Manadarin characters and the soy milk you bought was literally soy+water (not quite to my taste.) It became a staple in the Asian community: I know three different friends whose parents are Asian immigrants and still shop there whenever they get the chance, even after moving to New Jersey or Queens. I hope they rebuild it.

16 thoughts on “Fire! Goodbye to Hong Kong Supermarket in Chinatown

  1. amazingly, you have utilized the internet to self-publish, yet you’ve chosen to use an antiquated term that is not only offensive, it is indicative of an era more suited to morse code and typewriters than computers.
    note: in 2009 (actually for quite a while now) persons of Chinese decent are offended by the term “chinamen”.
    Welcome to New York.

  2. That is SO sad! And I can’t believe it happened on your block. I hope it gets rebuilt too!

    Eastern Market, an open air fresh food market in DC started in 1873, burned down last year. They are rebuilding and have some stalls but it is not the same 🙁

  3. Watchdog: I intended the word to be antiquated (NOT to offend), old-fashioned in a film noir type of way, which was how I described the event in my post. I appreciate what you’re saying and so I’ll change it in the post, but leave these comments up for transparency.

    Lustyreader: Yes, so sad!

  4. Thank you for the great photos and video. I was sad to hear about the fire this morning, since I grew up a few blocks away and still go (went) shopping there whenever I visit my mom.

    Thanks muchly for changing the term to “Chinese”. Inflection can be really hard to get across online.

  5. A note on the comments section, I want people to interact and discuss and I do want to hear everyone’s reactions, but this forum seemed to get out of hand with accusations about other commenters and obscene language, which is why I deleted some of them.


  6. What a frightening scenario! Your post captured the drama of the event. Btw – Thanks for thinking my blog is lovely and your other lovelies seem very interesting.

  7. Thanks for the photos. I also have to correct you on terminology here. “Mandarin” is the official spoken language of China and a dialect. It is not a written language per se. Thus, there’s no such thing as “Mandarin characters.” The packages are marked in “Chinese.” (There is just one written language — Chinese)

  8. 1010 WINS! Nice! For those of us who grew up listening to it religiously on winter mornings hoping for school closing news at least, it’s the media big-time 🙂

    And props for sounding so coherent/professional at that hour…I wouldn’t have, especially with the neighbourhood seemingly on fire!

  9. Bill, Emmet: Thanks! (I assure you most of the babble was deleted.)

    Scott: Thanks for explaining!

    At the site, the building next to Hong Kong is being torn down.

  10. The post was terrific…I really think that your reportage was very professional and noteworthy. Thank you so much for the context, photos, and video. Great to read, great to view as well. You are a talented blogger…Rock on!

  11. It is sad. It was very convenient to walk down the street to pick up little things. But, there is already a new Hong Kong Supermarket on Hester and Elizabeth. I don’t know if they are affiliated or not. They carry the same range of products if not more.

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