Chinatown Businesses Continue to Suffer Due to Coronavirus Misconceptions

IMG_1096

According to the NYC Department of Health, there are now 76 confirmed cases of coronavirus in New York State and 11 in New York City. Most of the cases are clustered in Westchester County, but unfortunately, Chinatown is paying a heavy price as misconceptions and outright xenophobia connected to the disease abound. Here’s a roundup of some of the Chinatown-relevant news coverage in the past week.

Owners of restaurants and retail stores in Chinatown told the New York Times say they have seen their business drop by 50-70% in the past 10 days. New Yorkers are staying away from the neighborhood, as well as tourists from China.

Steve Ip, a manager of Bayard Street restaurant Yin Ji Chang Fen said his business has been cut in half. Not even Lunar New Year celebrations drew the types of crowds local establishments have counted on in the past. Andy Wang of Taiwan Pork Chop House on Doyers Street also said business is down, especially at lunch time when, as the Times explained, “Wall Street types usually fill the tables.” As a result, the restaurant is buying fewer items at local markets.

The New York Post checked in with Claudia Leo, marketing manager at Jing Fong, Chinatown’s largest restaurant. She said events this month are down 75%. March is usually a critical month (there are typically dozens of Lunar New Year events at Jing Fong). Leo told Side Dish, “We can’t lay off anyone but we are reducing hours so people working six days a week might now be working three or four days a week.”

Bo Ky, one of Chinatown’s most popular restaurants, reports its daily customer count has dropped to 30 or 40 from an average of 120 before the coronavirus scare.

Bon Appetit spoke with Wilson Tang of Nom Wah Tea Parlor, who lamented that the the New York Times chaos to use a photo of the historic Chinatown restaurant in a coronavirus story even though there have been no cases of the epidemic in Chinatown. Tang explained:

That misinformation traveled quickly around Weibo and WeChat. My DMs and Facebook messages were filled with this nonsense. Everyone on the block was talking about it. We emailed, texted, tweeted at multiple people at the Times to take the photo down. It’s gone now, but if you search “Nom Wah” and “coronavirus,” that photo still comes up. That hurts my business.

New York-based author and chef Grace Young wrote a piece for Food & Wine that carried the headline, “Chinatown Needs Your Love More Than Ever Right Now.” On a recent visit, she was heartbroken to see a beloved restaurant, Hoy Wong, had been shuttered. Young recounted what a friend of the owner told her: “She said that over the past few weeks, coronavirus paranoia had decimated the restaurant’s business. The lease was coming up for renewal, and after considering their options the owners concluded that they had no choice but to close up for good.”

The article includes a comprehensive and “highly opinionated” guide to some of Chinatown’s best restaurants and shops.