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~Coops On Canal St

Wanted to share something happening on Sunday hosted by Canal Street Research that I thought would be cool. Check out their Instagram HERE.

Left: Chinatown guidebook entry, 1939. Right: The facade of the Kletzker Brotherly Aid Society at 41 Canal Street, now a Chinese funeral home, still bears sculptures of beehives—symbols of the sweetness of cooperation.

Join us at the Canal Street Research Association (264 Canal Street, #5E New York, NY) on Sunday, April 24 from 4–6 p.m. for Coops on Canal, a discussion about self-organized economic models—mutual aid, ethnic associations, informal loan clubs, and cooperatives—along Canal Street in New York City’s Chinatown, with speakers Wellington Chen, Dan Katz, Rebecca Kobrin, and Boukary Sawadogo, introduced by Canal Street Research Association and Coop Fund

In Chinese, an association or “hui” (會) refers to a secret society or members-only club organized along ethnic or village lines. Many such associations line Canal Street, including Canal Street Research Association. The hui has roots in rural Qing dynasty enclaves, where such societies formed to combat unjust rulers. Hui is also a term for gathering or assembling, and can be an informal lending club whereby members contribute to a collective pot, taking turns to receive the total sum. 

Loan clubs and ethnic associations have long been a source of support among communities neglected or abandoned by the state, and for those who face discriminatory policies barring access to housing, medical care, or work opportunities. These cooperative economic structures offer a way to amass a sizable sum without incurring exorbitant interest, and to bypass the exclusionary requirements of banks. 

For the first half of the 19th century, the New York African Society for Mutual Relief assisted African Americans buying property in the neighborhood of Five Points, the former site of Collect Pond, Lower Manhattan’s main reservoir, whose tributaries overflowed into the canal that became Canal Street. Half a century later, waves of Jewish immigrants to the neighborhood formed aid associations called landsmannschaftn. Today, West African traders on Canal Street draw on kinship for economic fortification. Should the police seize their goods in a raid, a shared recovery fund is available, recalling the West African sou-sou or savings clubs that proliferate across the diaspora.

At times, these informal organizations replicate the oppressive power structures to which they respond, as landlords and business owners within a community accrue influence and exploit those with fewer resources. Yet in the face of economic instability, forms of self-organization rooted in principles of solidarity and mutual aid offer ways for communities to continue to survive and thrive in New York City.


Wellington Chen is a public servant, community advocate, architect, and planner. A first-generation Asian American with a lifelong interest in community resuscitation, he once worked in a wig factory on Canal Street and now leads the Chinatown Business Improvement District and the Chinatown Partnership.

Daniel Katz teaches history at the School of Labor and Urban Studies at CUNY. He is the author of All Together Different: Yiddish Socialists, Garment Workers, and the Labor Roots of Multiculturalism and founder and Chief Historian of the People’s Heritage Tours, a walking New York City history tour company that highlights past movements and contemporary struggles for social justice.

Rebecca Kobrin is Russell and Bettina Knapp Associate Professor of American Jewish History at Columbia University, with a specialization in immigration history and Jewish economic history. She is the author of Jewish Bialystok and Its Diaspora

Boukary Sawadogo is Associate Professor Cinema Studies and Black Studies at the City College of the City University of New York. A scholar of African cinema and African immigrant communities in New York City, he is the author of the forthcoming book Africans in Harlem: An Untold New York Story.

Canal Street Research Association is a fictional office founded in an empty storefront on Canal Street, New York City’s counterfeit epicenter, in fall 2020. Through research, re-staging, shadow economies, and vacancy, it delves into the cultural and material ecologies of Canal Street and its long history of probing the limits of ownership and authorship.

Coop Fund is an experimental cooperative funding platform that accumulates financial resources through member contributions, and redistributes small funds to members using a cooperative decision making process.

The Canal Street Research Association’s fifth-floor space is accessible via elevator. Its bathrooms are located up one step and are not ADA compliant. Please feel free to reach out to if you have access needs.

This event was made possible by funding provided by the members of Coop Fund

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