Published in 1946, the Handbook of Chinese in America, is an invaluable resource for examining the primary businesses and organizations of Chinese across the United States. I could find no information about how the listings were gathered but I assume the businesses in the Handbook paid a fee to be included. (My parents had a copy of this hardbound 646 page book, which as I recall had a red cover.)
I was 'disappointed' to discover that our laundry was not listed. Since then I have discovered several other laundries that were not in the list. My assumption, perhaps speculative, is that many laundry owners did not see any advantage in being listed and did not bother being listed. In contrast, restaurants and grocery stores, listed in large numbers across the country, would stand to benefit from having their businesses listed.)
I had not thought about this book until I was at the Association of Asian American Studies in Chicago a few years ago. Steve Dao, a dedicated collector and vendor of Chinese American history ephemera, had a table at the conference. As I was talking with him, a book on the table that looked strangely familiar caught my eye. As it had been about 50 years since I last saw our copy, I was not certain at first. Upon closer examination, I was excited to realize that it was a copy of the very same Handbook I last saw half a century ago. I immediately called it to the attention of a historian friend who eagerly shelled out $50 for it, which turns out to be a bargain as I found a copy online in Vermont recently that was going for $100!
I must confess that I borrowed a copy from a library and shamelessly xeroxed it (at 646 pages, maybe I should have just bought the book). At the time I wasn't sure I would ever find much use for it. Although I had a sentimental feeling about the book, I wondered if was it worth $50 to me. Today, in retrospect, it has proved to be a great resource for identifying the types of businesses Chinese were operating, where they were located, and in what number, across the entire country. Since the addresses are listed, one could use the information to map out where "Chinatowns" were located in many towns with Chinese communities. Examination of the names chosen for businesses back then is also interesting since many of them reflect the times, e.g., New China Cafe, New Republic Cafe, Good Earth Cafe.
To give you some sample listings, I uploaded the listings of the Chinese grocery stores in the Mississippi River Delta in Mississippi and Arkansas which have proved to be very helpful to my research on Chinese in these communities.