Zakka, a new Asian gift shop in New Haven, sells everything from art to squishmallows – Hartford Courant

Chapel Street in New Haven, east of the green, looks like typical urban America: a CVS, a tattoo parlour, clothing and bike stores, food trucks. But the new store at 841 Chapel St. offers a refreshing brief trip to Asia.

Zakka, which means “miscellaneous goods” in Japanese, opened in mid-May and sells items from Japan, China and South Korea: food, tea, snacks, toys, shoes, housewares, health and beauty, stationery, collectibles, jewelry. , iPhone accessories.

The store was created by May Lin, who founded The Whale Tea, a boba shop with locations in Connecticut, Idaho and Singapore, with more locations to come. She recruited her friend, Yanhua Xie, to manage Zakka.

Xie is a former OB-GYN surgeon and researcher at Yale. His current job, providing technology to a genetic sequencing company in China, has been stalled by the pandemic. “All the cities have closed. They do nothing,” she said.

She was happy to fill the void by helping her friend make her new shop a success because she believes in the products sold at Zakka.

“In every culture, there is a bright side and a dark side. Walmart tricked people into believing that “made in China” meant the “wrong thing”. Everything in this store is of good quality. We want to promote the good side of ‘made in China’ and ‘made in Japan’ in America,” Xie said. “We want to sell good things to good people and bring them happiness.”

She especially loves the Asian trend of making even the most utilitarian household items as adorable as possible.

“I think in America everything is standard style, all the same, maybe a color changes but nothing else. A pair of scissors is just a pair of scissors,” she said. “Asian products show creativity and innovation. Scissors aren’t just scissors, they’re beautiful too.

A wall of keychains shows it: some have stuffed animals, glitter purses, anime heroes. The kitchen utensils are colorful and shaped like animals. Cute little keychains are sold to brighten up shoes which themselves are a variety of bright colors. The pet cages are soft and bright, resembling a house a cartoon character would live in. Kids will want to collapse in the pile of squishmallows. Even tubes of toothpaste make a person smile.

Because of this preference for friendliness – and the fact that most labels are in their native language, not English – shoppers who don’t speak those languages ​​may have to guess what’s in the box. packaging. The store staff will help you.

On July 12, Zakka held a ribbon-cutting ceremony, attended by community leaders and Mayor Justin Elicker, who spoke Mandarin Chinese at the event.

Zakka’s opening comes at a time when New Haven’s Asian population is growing. According to the non-profit data collection initiative Data Haven“In 2010, the Asian population represented 4% of the city’s population, but it increased to 7% in 2020, an increase of 3,180 inhabitants.

This growth led Christine Kim to found Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders of New Haven “to increase the voice and visibility of the growing Asian population in greater New Haven and to support small Asian businesses”.

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Kim, who was at the ribbon cutting, said shopping in Zakka “was like going to a convenience store in Asia.”

“Cosmetic and personal care type products that you can only get from pharmacies in Japan and Korea. These are not things that are imported to it for general use. But these are things I buy from Asia,” she said. “I love Japanese drugstore mascara, Korean masks. It’s just exciting to see a little piece of Taiwan, Seoul, Osaka right here.

When visitors enter Zakka, they are greeted by a selfie station with an artificial cherry tree in full white bloom. The left wall features premium collectible figures from Sailor Moon, Demonslayer, Dragon Ball, and other anime and manga series.

Alongside the collectible figurines are a series of shadowbox-shaped artworks created by Xie, legendary women in Chinese history, made of flowers and ribbons. “Xishi Laundry by the River” is made up of large white flowers and small purple flowers. “Zhaojun coming out of the fortress” is made of red and pink roses and tiny blue flowers. “Diaochan Worshiping the Moon” is made up of yellow and lavender roses and sprigs of purple flowers to represent trees.

“Each image has a story behind it, of beautiful and strong women. I want to bring ancient Chinese history to America,” Xie said.

Zakka is open from noon to 9 p.m. Monday to Saturday, noon to 8 p.m. on Sunday.

Susan Dunne can be contacted at [email protected].