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Merchants who import gifts for Chinese New Year feeling slowdown at ports



Customers shop at Wing Wa Hing Gifts and Arts, Inc. in downtown Los Angeles' Chinatown.
Customers shop at Wing Wa Hing Gifts and Arts, Inc. in downtown Los Angeles' Chinatown.
Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC
Customers shop at Wing Wa Hing Gifts and Arts, Inc. in downtown Los Angeles' Chinatown.
Lunar New Year decorations on display at Wing Wa Hing Gifts and Arts, Inc. in downtown Los Angeles' Chinatown.
Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC
Customers shop at Wing Wa Hing Gifts and Arts, Inc. in downtown Los Angeles' Chinatown.
Lunar New Year decorations on display at Wing Wa Hing Gifts and Arts, Inc. in downtown Los Angeles' Chinatown.
Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC


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Bright red and gold banners, lanterns, posters and other Lunar New Year decorations fill the aisles at Wing Wa Hing Gifts and Arts in Chinatown. But this year, some items are in short supply.

"Lots of items for the new year, they are stuck in the ports," said Angie Tieu, who helps run the family business. "We couldn't get it out."

And she's not sure when they will. Because the items they sell for Lunar New Year are imported from China, their business relies on shippers running on time.  That's not been the case for months at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, where shippers are in a contract dispute with dockworkers.

Tieu says they've had a container stuck on the docks at Long Beach for two months with lanterns, vases and decorations that won't make it to the store in time for the New Year celebration on Thursday.

Her store is one of countless businesses nationwide that have felt the slowdown at West Coast ports, the result of a labor dispute, limited rail transportation and other factors.

With part of their New Year supply stuck, Tieu's family has taken desperate measures to meet demand: "Some of the items we had to get by air," she said. "And the cost is pretty expensive."

It's about twice as much to ship things by air, she said; especially costly to ship this way have been metal feng shui items.

In the meantime, Tieu says her family has to pay storage for the container they can't get.

It's helped some to order extra early. Christina Yao at TS Emporium, a store chain that sells imported Chinese products, said their New Year items arrived two months ago so now "it's under control."

But those who are still waiting will be stuck with extra merchandise.

Tieu said some generic New Year items can be sold next year. Not the same, though, for items that are specific to 2015, known alternately as the year of the sheep, ram - or goat.  

"The year of the sheep, the posters, those things, we'll have to wait until the next 12 years," Tieu says.

That because the year of the sheep doesn't come again until 2027.