Mississippi Delta Chinese

Life in Chinese Grocery Stores

Chinese Grocery Stores

 By the turn of the century they mostly ran grocery stores catering to blacks. In some towns today, like Merigold, just about the only store still open is the Chinese grocery.  

Tony Dunbar, Delta Time (1990)

Joe Gow Nue Grocery Store, Greenville, MS.

  Located at the foot of Washington Street across from the levee, the Joe Gow Nue store was one of the first and largest Chinese grocery stores in the Delta around the 1920s, serving also as an informal gathering place for the Greenville customers.  It sold local as well as imported foods, and other general store items. Unlike the self-service shelves typical in the grocery stores of today, merchandise in the Chinese grocery stores was usually in display cases or on shelves behind counters.   A downloadable interview conducted in 1977 with Joe Ting, son of one of the early owners, Joe Guay, provides a detailed early history of the Chinese family that ran this store.  

                    Chinese families made their stores serve as living space after hours. Rearranging goods afforded them space to have family dinners or social gatherings in the stores as shown below in the Mee Jon Grocery in Greenville. Many Chinese families lived in the back of, above, and nearby their stores. This arrangement saved money but also provided more safety.                            


Virtually all Chinese in the Delta in the early half of the last century operated small family grocery stores, which were scattered across the region with only a few in each community. Physical distances reduced opportunities for socializing among Chinese during the long work week. On Sundays, church activities were a vital factor in providing social contact among families.

Visit to Maria Joe's Grocery in 2008, Greenwood, MS.

Maria Joe operates a store with her mother who is over 80.  Running a store involves long hours every day of the week, and it is sometimes dangerous as she has been robbed at gunpoint on several occasions.   In addition to carrying food items, she stoc

Maria Joe's Grocery, Greenwood, Ms. 2008 from John Jung on Vimeo.

ks a large supply of pvc pipe and her store is the only place in town to find it late at night. Like other Chinese grocers, she has living quarters in the back of the store. 

Visit to Leung Grocery in 2008, Greenville, MS.


 immigrants to the Delta have also entered the grocery store business even though the descendants of the earlier immigrant grocers have moved on to professional careers.

    Monica and Tony Li immigrated from Hong Kong when China assumed control of the colony.   Monica acquired a grocery store in Rosedale in 1995 before moving to run a grocery store in Clarksdale. (The interiors of her store in the video are contemporary, unlike those of earlier stores)

Untitled from John Jung on Vimeo.

 A panoramic glimpse around the private section of the store of Chun and Kit Leung shows some of the nonfood items they stock.  This area is separated from the public area by a wall with a small window for transactions with customers because of the risk of late night robberies and assaults.

Yee Food Land Market, Lake Village, Arkansas


  Joe Ding Yee describes the grocery store of their parents started in the 1960s where all the children grew up working in the store.  His mother, now 96 years old, and his father were immigrants from China. They grew many of the Chinese vegetables for their own use and to sell in the store. (The store interiors in the video were filmed recently and do not show what the store was when it first opened).

A Tri-State Directory of Chinese grocery stores in Arkansas, Missisissippi, and Tennesse published around 1952 can be viewed at this website: http://issuu.com/tibfibphoto/docs/tri-statedirectory/1

You can also find a listing for 1946  under PHOTOS.

Back in 1940, there were over 30 Chinese grocery stores in Greenville, MS. which was the largest city in the Delta.  Now in 2014, there are no more than a handful of Chinese grocery stores left,  The Min Sang store is probably the last one standing from 1940.

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