Zakka, a new Asian gift shop in New Haven, sells everything from art to squishmallows

Chapel Street in New Haven, east of the green, looks like typical urban America: a CVS, a tattoo parlor, clothing and bike stores, food trucks. But the new shop at 841 Chapel St. offers a brief, refreshing journey to Asia.

Zakka, which is Japanese for “miscellaneous goods,” opened in mid-May, selling items from Japan, China and South Korea: food, tea, snacks, toys, shoes, household goods, health and beauty products, stationery, collectibles, jewelry, iPhone accessories.


The store was created by May Lin, who founded The Whale Tea, a boba shop with locations in Connecticut, Idaho and Singapore, with more locations coming soon. She recruited her friend, Yanhua Xie, to manage Zakka.

Xie is a former OB-GYN surgeon and Yale research scientist. Her current job, providing technology for a genetic-sequencing company in China, has been stalled by the pandemic. “All the cities shut down. They are doing nothing,” she said.


She was happy to fill the void by helping her friend make her new shop a success because she believes in the products sold at Zakka.

“In every culture there is a bright side and a dim side. Walmart made people think that ‘made in China’ meant ‘bad stuff.’ Everything in this store is good quality. We want to promote the good side of ‘made in China’ and ‘made in Japan’ to America,” Xie said. “We want to sell good stuff to good people and bring some happiness to them.”

She particularly likes the Asian tendency to make even the most utilitarian household items as adorable as possible.

“I think in America everything is standard style, all the same, maybe a color changes but nothing else. A pair of scissors is just a pair of scissors,” she said. “Stuff from Asia shows creativity and innovation. Scissors aren’t just scissors, they are pretty, too.”

A wall of keychains shows this: Some have stuffed animals, some glittery coin purses, some anime heroes. Kitchenware is colorful and animal-shaped. Cute little fobs are sold to liven up shoes that themselves are a variety of bright colors. Pet carriers are soft and bright, looking like a house a cartoon character would live in. Kids will want to collapse into the pile of squishmallows. Even the tubes of toothpaste make a person smile.

Because of this preference for cuteness — and the fact that most labels are in their native languages, not English — shoppers who don’t speak those languages may have to guess what is in the package. The staff at the shop will help.

On July 12, Zakka held a ribbon-cutting, attended by community leaders and Mayor Justin Elicker, who spoke Mandarin Chinese at the event.

Zakka’s opening comes at a time when the Asian population of New Haven is growing. According to the nonprofit data-collection initiative Data Haven, “in 2010, the Asian population represented 4% of the city’s population, but this rose to 7% in 2020, an increase of 3,180 residents.”


This growth led Christine Kim to found Asian American and Pacific Islanders of New Haven “to increase the voice and visibility of the growing Asian population in greater New Haven and to support Asian small businesses.”

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Kim, who was at that ribbon cutting, said shopping at Zakka “felt like going into convenience store in Asia.”

“The cosmetic and personal-care type things you can only get in drugstores in Japan and Korea. These are not things that are imported to her for general use. But they are things I shop for in Asia,” she said. “I love the Japanese drugstore mascara, the Korean face masks. It is just exciting to see a little piece of Taiwan, Seoul, Osaka right here.”

When visitors enter Zakka, they are greeted by a selfie station with an artificial cherry tree in full white-blossom bloom. The wall on the left has high-end collectible figures from Sailor Moon, Demonslayer, Dragon Ball and other anime and manga series.

Next to the collectible figures are a series of shadow-box artworks created by Xie, of legendary ladies of Chinese history, made with flowers and ribbons. “Xishi Laundry by the River” is made with big white and small purple blossoms. “Zhaojun Exiting the Fortress” is made with red and pink roses and tiny blue flowers. “Diaochan Worshipping the Moon” is made with yellow and lavender roses and sprigs of purple blooms to depict trees.

“Every picture has a story behind it, of ladies who were beautiful and strong. I want to bring ancient Chinese history to America,” Xie said.


Zakka is open noon to 9 p.m. Monday to Saturday, noon to 8 p.m. Sunday.

Susan Dunne can be reached at