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A Chinatown salon owner, facing eviction, will remain in his shop after all

Chinatown hair salon owner Yan Chi Chen (center), sat surrounded by Chinese Progressive Association staff members after Chen settled with his landlord out of court and avoided displacement.
Chinatown hair salon owner Yan Chi Chen (center), sat surrounded by Chinese Progressive Association staff members after Chen settled with his landlord out of court and avoided displacement.(David L Ryan/Globe Staff)

A Chinatown hair salon owner who faced eviction in what his supporters called a blatant example of the displacement caused by gentrification will be able to stay in his shop after all.

Lawyers for 56-year-old Yan Chi Chen reached a preliminary agreement with his landlord out of court that will allow him to stay in his Tyler Street shop, A Salon, under the original terms of his lease. Chen must only provide documentation of liability insurance, something they say he was willing to do anyway.

The agreement was reached on the eve of a trial in Boston Municipal Court. Chen, who speaks a dialect of Cantonese, said through a translator that he is “relieved that trial is avoided.”

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Boston city councilor Ed Flynn helped Yan Chi Chen with his tie before heading to court on Feb. 14.
Boston city councilor Ed Flynn helped Yan Chi Chen with his tie before heading to court on Feb. 14.(David L Ryan/Globe Staff)

He said that he has struggled emotionally since his landlord filed the eviction notice in January but that he was thankful for a show of support from friends and clients, as well as the Chinese Progressive Association.

The case demonstrated the challenges that residents and small business owners face amid speculation in a booming real estate market.

Chen’s landlord, Halying Ji, of Weston, who bought the property in 2017 for $3 million (it was last sold in 2005 for $900,000), denied that she was targeting Chen to make a profit. She said she was strictly looking to enforce a clause that requires him to provide documentation of his insurance coverage.

Chen maintained that he had insurance all along but that he was in China at the time that Ji first requested the documentation. The case raised suspicions among Chen’s supporters because the landlords were also seeking a rent increase from $1,700 to $3,600 a month or the immediate payment of more than $60,000 to terminate the lease. As the case headed toward trial, Municipal Court Judge Robert McKenna Jr. warned Ji that she could face added fees if she pushed a trial without any merit to her case.

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Outside his shop at 106 Tyler St in Boston's Chinatown, Yan Chi Chen spoke at a rally before leaving for court on Feb. 14.
Outside his shop at 106 Tyler St in Boston's Chinatown, Yan Chi Chen spoke at a rally before leaving for court on Feb. 14.(David L Ryan/Globe Staff)

Karen Chen, of the Chinese Progressive Association, called the outcome a victory for small business owners who are fending off displacement caused by the speculation of the real estate market.

“It’s another case that shows the importance of preserving Chinatown, in this crucial moment for the future of Chinatown,” she said, praising city officials for getting involved in the case.

Sheila Dillon, the city’s chief of housing and neighborhood development, had intervened and pushed for a settlement.

Dillon said Wednesday that, “if we are to preserve Chinatown, we need to make sure the residents and the businesses remain in their locations, to serve the community.”

Supporters held heart shaped signs at a rally for Yan Chi Chen before he went to court on Feb. 14.
Supporters held heart shaped signs at a rally for Yan Chi Chen before he went to court on Feb. 14.(David L Ryan/Globe Staff)

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at milton.valencia@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.