Excess love, or how the community gathers behind a beloved shopkeeper


Army and Navy bags, the decade-old surplus store in 177 East Houston is still hanging by a thread. However, embraced by a loyal customer base and a community unwilling to fail, the company and owner Henry Yao keep fighting.

the New York Times profiled Yao on the weekend highlighting the origins of the store and the ongoing struggles through this pandemic year from hell.

Thanks to a crowdfunding campaign in the summer and a “cash mob” at the same time, the store raised more than 25,000 US dollars and continued to boost sales. The plan now is to stay stable and “reevaluate the future as a showcase” in January.

A few excerpts:

Sales at his store, Army & Navy Bags, had never been so strong before East Houston Street was empty. He had focused less on margins and more on simplicity: sturdy bags, optimistic service.

Mr. Yao never realized the depth or range of his reach. He’s never seen the Yelp reviews raving about “the tiny little shop with the absolute cutest man in the world.” Little did he realize that he was slowly creating a community ready to help him should he ever need it.

Then, on July 14th, just as Mr. Yao found that he was in his last month on duty, the stars changed.

That’s when Mx. Thibodeaux started a GoFundMe campaign for Mr. Yao and threw in the first giant. Mr. Yao had never heard of crowdfunding. He was touched.

Mr. Yao was grateful to have some cushion from the July sales and GoFundMe, even though he knew he couldn’t expect another surge of support.

In January he will reassess his future as a storefront.

Army & Navy Bags has been on the Lower East Side since at least 1959. Almost fifty years later – in 2007 – Yao took over the reins. At that time he was working as a roof seller and one of his customers was Zygmunt Majcher, whose family had run the company from the beginning.

This isn’t the first time the Lower East Side community has gathered around the store, either. The impending closure was real afterwards In 2012, news of an impending rent increase leaked. The landlord finally agreed.


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