Yu and Me Books makes its way back to Chinatown after tragic fire that broke out in bookstore

ByBrianne Hailey Killeen WABC logo
Wednesday, July 12, 2023
Yu and Me Books comes out of the flames after tragic fire
A tragic fire burned through Yu and Me Books bookstore in Chinatown and now owner Lucy Yu is working to rebuild.

CHINATOWN, Manhattan (WABC) -- A brand-new bookstore captivated the community of Chinatown, as an Asian American woman opened it with the pure intention of filling it with stories that give a voice to minorities in America.

Lucy Yu, a chemical engineer and originally from Los Angeles, decided to change careers to something that would truly make her feel fulfilled.

Her calling passion was literature and her calling home was New York, so she followed her heart.

After settling into New York, the globe was faced with the COVID-19 pandemic that changed the way of the world and instigated terrible attacks on the Asian community. This was a time that left the world desperate for representation and humanity.

In December of 2021, Yu opened her bookstore, Yu and Me Books, to provide a safe and cozy space for people to read and find some contentment. It ended up growing past the horizons she anticipated.

"It was so much bigger than what I have ever imagined," said Yu. "I had hoped for the best and planned for the worst."

RELATED | New Chinatown bookstore filled with stories of minorities in America

Yu and Me Books in Chinatown is Asian American woman owned and highlights the stories of minorities in America and immigrants.

Yu wasn't sure how the community was going to respond to her mission in Chinatown and she was skeptical of the uncertainty that lied ahead. The turn that the community took is something she found invaluable.

"The way that community showed up was something that I couldn't have even dreamed of," Yu said.

This compassionate community didn't leave her side even through the tragic fire that ran through Yu's bookstore on July 4, 2023. Instead, the community showed their overwhelming support to Yu during the devastating time.

"I smelled some smoke and a customer even asked like 'are we safe?'," said Yu. "I didn't think it was anything more than just fireworks outside, because it was the fourth of July."

The situation became nothing but surreal for Yu.

"It's hard to remember exactly what happened, because I was pretty in shock," said Yu. "I think once I started seeing them breaking all the windows of the building was when I just realized the severity of the situation."

Some inventory was engulfed in flames and some was flooded out with water. Yu tried to cover whatever books she could with trash bags to protect them from any more water damage.

As first responders put the fire out, they were also bagging up the books. However, they weren't separating the wet and dry books. Yu had to go through all of the bags and sort the books all over again.

Yu's bookstore suffered severe loss of inventory.

"We lost some really amazing first editions of some books, which I think was really, really hard for me because I didn't even sell those like I just loved them so much," Yu said.

Fortunately, she hasn't been alone.

"Fifteen of my friends were there alongside me," said Yu. "For people to know that it's hard for me to ask for help and show up anyways is something that shows true community, true friendship."

Her friends looked out for her and made sure she was fed and taken care of throughout the mayhem. They also worked by her side when she quietly went over to sort and bag up her books.

While Yu was working to recover any items possible, she knew she'd have to close the doors for the time being. However, it still remained a focus of hers to make sure her staff would be taken care of.

"So the first thing that I told all of my team after understanding the situation and understanding how bad the damage was, I told them that I would pay them out for their scheduled hours for three months," said Yu. "They would be able to keep their health insurance. That was my top priority."

Yu has some immediate plans in mind, as well, in order to make sure her staff still gets work and that the store remains connected to the community.

She has plans to seek other temporary relocation options and she also has plans to do popup bookstores in Chinatown.

Ultimately, she wants to reopen the store exactly where it was originally.

"That space meant so much to people and Chinatown means so much to people so I want to keep that alive." Yu said.

This all became a full circle moment when Yu found herself falling back on the values she had when she initially opened the store.

She said, "I'm hoping for the best but preparing for the worst."

The loss from the fire was nothing less than detrimental for Yu, but she continues to keep a positive outlook in moving forward.

"Even though it was devastating earlier this week, it's also incredibly beautiful the love and the support we felt," Yu said. "I'm still recovering from the outpouring of love and support from everyone. It's pretty incredible."

The community has shown such abundant support through the tragedy. People even helped to surpass Yu's GoFundMe goal within the first four hours of it being posted.

"I just want to extend massive gratitude to every single person that donated to the GoFundMe, to the Chinatown community, to all of my friends, to everyone just showing me time and time again that I don't have to do everything alone," Yu said.

What we do know about the fire is that it occurred in a unit above the bookstore. The investigation of what exactly caused the fire remains ongoing.


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