Joe Shoong (August 30, 1879 – April 13, 1961) was the founder of National Dollar Stores. His family lived in Adams Point, and he was active in the local Chinese American community.
Shoong was born to Joe Gon Shoong and Wong Shee Shoong of the Guandong province of China. 2 Some sources say Joe was born in China and immigrated at about age 18, but many say his parents immigrated first and Joe was born in San Francisco. On census forms and other official records, Joe consistently listed California as his birthplace. However, in the town of Long Tau Wan, Guandong, China, there is a school called the Joe Shoong School, and his picture is on the wall.3 He paid for construction of the school in 1928.
In 1901 Shoong opened his first small store in partnership with three others in Vallejo. By 1903, he bought out his partners and moved the shop to San Francisco. In 1905 he moved again and renamed the store "China Toggery" in English and "Chung Hing" in Chinese, which means 'revival' or 'rejuvenation'.
Shoong expanded rapidly to additional stores. In 1928 the retail chain was renamed National Dollar Stores, and eventually Shoong owned over 50 stores in California and five other states. There was a National Dollar Store located at 11th Street and Washington in Downtown Oakland. There's still a National Dollar store in operation in Fruitvale, although it's called National. Shoong made a point of having a Chinese manager in almost every National Dollar Store. At the time it was unusual to have a Chinese American in a management position.
In 1938 Shoong was involved in a complex labor dispute. National Dollar Stores operated a sewing factory in San Francisco's Chinatown with between 125 and 200 workers. The workers organized a union for collective bargaining. The workers thought they had agreed to a closed shop (no union) in exchange for higher wages, but Shoong promptly sold the factory to the Golden Gate Manufacturing Company. After negotiations stalled, the workers went on strike. The strike lasted 3 months, and the public honored the picket lines. National Dollar Stores and Golden Gate finally settled with the workers, but by the end of the year the factory was closed.
Home and Personal Life
Joe married Rose Elizabeth Soo Hoo (June 16, 1879 – January 20, 1951) c.1916, and they had three children: Betty Lorraine Shoong (August 9, 1918–December 9, 1996), Doris Jane Shoong (December 20,1919–?), and Milton William Shoong (August 18, 1922–June 30, 2000). Until about 1922, the family lived in San Francisco.
Architect Julia Morgan designed the Mediterranean-style Shoong family residence which was constructed in 1922. It is located at 385 Bellevue Avenue in the Adams Point neighborhood, and was declared an Oakland landmark in 1995. Their home was a center of Chinese American society, with Mr. & Mrs. Shoong entertaining many prominent people in their home, including Chiang Kai-Shek, who was guarded by the FBI during his visit. Their phone number in the 1940s was GLencourt 1438.
Shoong generously donated much of his millions to various philanthropic projects, including a scholarship endowment for Chinese American students at UC Berkeley, and construction of the Chinatown community center at 9th Street and Harrision Street. The renovation of the Paramount Theatre, and financial support for the Children's Fairyland Tree Top Teahouse and Dragon Slide were also projects to which Shoong and his son Milton donated funds. Joe also donated for the creation of a Chinese school, the Shoong Family Chinese Cultural Center which opened in 1953.
Death and Burial
When Rose died in 1951, all National Dollar Stores were closed for the day. When Joe died, funeral services were held on Monday, April 17, 1961 at the First Presbyterian Church, and all National Dollar Stores were closed for the day in his memory.
Joe Shoong is buried in Mountain View Cemetery, along with his wife Rose Elizabeth Shoong.
Links and References
- Joe Shoong at Lives of the Dead
- Founder of Store Chain Dies at 82 Lodi News Sentinel (April 15, 1961)
- Oakland Public Library, Oakland History Room and Maps Division
- Distinguished Asian Americans: A Biographical Dictionary edited by Hyung-Chan Kim
- Chinese Genealogy website
- Joe Shoong at Asian Week