When Victor Ma’s parents emigrated from Taiwan to the United States in the early 1980s, his mother had dreams of being an entrepreneur and finding success in a new country.
“She saw a lot of people carving their own path and making their own way,” Ma said. “She saw a lot of entrepreneurs and small business owners and wanted to follow her own American dream.”
So, in the early 1990s, Christina Ma decided to get into the uniform business. In 1992, her sister in law bought a uniform store from a father-and-son duo who had owned it for 30 years. Two years later, Christina bought the Flushing Uniform Center at 36-39 Main St. and started selling scrubs at the brick and mortar to local doctors and nurses.
Ma, who was born and raised nearby in Bayside along with his two sisters, said that his mom saw the shop as an opportunity to build her own business and follow her dreams. As Flushing developed into a more commercial neighborhood, she had to adapt to the evolving needs of the people.
Although she did not start off as the business-savvy person she is today, Ma said that she eventually built a loyal customer base. In addition to scrubs, she started selling restaurant uniforms and all-day comfort footwear. But between 1994 and 1998, Ma said that a number of postal employees — specifically Chinese employees from Queens and Brooklyn — came into the store looking for postal uniforms, which they were not selling at the time.
In response to the growing demand, his parents obtained the official license to sell postal uniforms in 1998. Ma said that the USPS has specific requirements for stores who sell employee uniforms, which include ensuring that the products are created in America by union workers. The uniforms sold at these stores should be able to withstand varying weather conditions and staining while remaining comfortable all day.
The business continued to thrive in Flushing over the next two decades until COVID-19 hit New York.
“In 26 years she never closed the store for more than a couple days at a time, until COVID hit and the city locked down in mid-March last year,” Ma said. “That was the very first time she closed up shop. We were closed for about three months and then when she opened up the store again, there was a rush of her loyal postal employees who had been waiting for her to open back up because there was nowhere else for them to get their uniforms.”
Since the Flushing Uniform Center reopened, Ma said that a lack of foot traffic forced them to cut back on their hours of operation.
“That’s what a lot of small businesses in New York are struggling with right now. As things open up again, hopefully foot traffic will come back and our business will come back. But we’re hoping to open up fully again seven days a week,” Ma said.
In 2019, Ma launched the business’s website postalvendor.com, which caters to the uniform shop’s USPS-employed clientele. The Bayside native said that he and his family saw an opportunity to expand their reach to postal employees across the country. He added that the site also helped them to conduct business even when the brick and mortar shut down during the pandemic.
“There aren’t a lot of options for postal employees to get their uniforms. New York has some stores that are licensed but not every state does,” he said. “During COVID when New York was shut down for nonessential retail for those few months, we were still able to at least take the orders in. When we opened up shop, we were able to ship it out to people across the country.”
The website currently serves postal employees in all 50 states.
Ma shared that his favorite part of the industry is providing products for essential workers locally and beyond.
“[I enjoy] just being able to make other people’s jobs easier. We provide a service for people we consider to be very essential,” Ma said. “We’re thankful that we’ve been able to be here this long serving our local community and our local postal employees. So the best part is to be able to just get them the things they need in a quick and efficient way so they can just do their jobs.”
The Flushing Uniform Center is currently open Sunday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Learn more at postalvendor.com.