In San Francisco in 1928 the China Toggery & Joe Shoong Co., Inc., with 16 dry goods stores in California and the West, was renamed National Dollar Stores, Ltd. Now there are 37 National Dollar Stores, one as far east as Kansas City. Despite their name, they sell such things as women's dresses for as much as $4.95. They are moderately profitable: Last year, on sales of $7,000,000, profit was about $170,000. Main thing that distinguishes them from competitors like J. C. Penney Co. is that they are entirely run and largely owned by Chinese. Some 90% of National Dollar's clerks (the figure fluctuates seasonally from 400 to 1,500) are white, but each store's manager is yellow. And the head of all the stores, Joe Shoong, is the richest, best-known Chinese business man in the U. S.
In 1903, when Joe Shoong was 24, he started the first China Toggery in Vallejo, a little town at the end of San Francisco Bay. After the 1906 earthquake he moved to San Francisco. Ten years later he opened his first branch, in Sacramento. And ten years after that, with ten stores in California, he began to do business in the northwestSeattle, Portland, Tacoma.
To no member of his race does the saying "poor as a Chinaman" apply less than to Joe Shoong. His 1937 salary was $141,000; National Dollar dividends brought him $40,000 more. (He and his family own a comfortable 51% of National Dollar stock; most of the rest is owned in small lots by various less affluent Chinese.) He has one daughter at Columbia, another at Stanford, a son at a preparatory school, and he has built a school for some 350 children in the Cantonese village in China where his father was born. He lives in a large stucco house in Oakland. He has five cars. He is a Shriner and a 32nd degree Mason.
But Joe Shoong has enjoyed the afflictions as well as the comforts of the rich. For the last few months he has been having labor trouble. National Dollar's women's dresses, once manufactured on the premises, more recently have been supplied by a factory in San Francisco's Chinatown. Chinatown is the only part of labor-minded San Francisco without labor unions. Chinese remember what the old-line labor movement thought of them, are afraid they would be replaced with whites if they were paid the same wages. The best wages of any garment factory in Chinatown have been Joe Shoong's$13.33 a week.
Into Chinatown last autumn went an organizer for lively International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, before long organized in Joe Shoong's factory the union's first Chinese local. A National Labor Relations Board election in January established it as sole bargaining agent. Negotiations started. Two weeks later Joe Shoong sold the factory to his foreman Joe Sun and another Chinese. The union thought he had acted in bad faith and its members walked out.
Picket lines were thrown around Joe Shoong's factory and Joe Shoong's three San Francisco stores. Members of A. F. of L.'s Department Store Employes' Union, with whom Joe Shoong had a closed shop agreement, refused to cross the lines. Joe Shoong's three stores closed down.