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Empress of China Is Shutting Down After 48 Years

Known for its commanding views, the banquet hall has hosted countless weddings and events since the '60s.


Five stories tall, with commanding views of the city, Empress of China has been a Chinatown landmark since the '60s, with a wall covered in portraits of visiting celebrities from its '80s heyday. But like so many SF businesses these days, it's going the way of the dodo. As the Chron reports, the palatial complex is planning to close down at year's end, as its building prepares to go on the market. Employees, many of whom have worked at Empress of China for 30 years or more, were informed of the closure last month. The complex, which was founded by Kee Joon Lee in 1966 and is owned by the descendants of his original board of directors, has played host to countless weddings and events in its time. The building is being marketed for "tech play," according to a Chinatown commercial real-estate broker, with renderings showing it transformed into open-plan office space. However, there's no buyer as of yet.

To address the closure of Empress of China and similar businesses, Supervisor David Campos and San Francisco Heritage are teaming up on a registry of "legacy businesses," defined as having been in business for 30 years or more and contributing meaningfully to the community. If established, Campos' legislation would offer financial incentives for businesses to stay put and not sell up. But it'll be too late for Empress of China, as well as All Star DonutsU-Lee, and other restaurants and food businesses that have lost their leases or their buildings.