Struggling After Sandy, Chinatown & Little Italy Businesses Hope Saturday Events Draw Big Crowds

Last year's East Meets West Christmas Parade.
Last year’s East Meets West Christmas Parade.

There’s always been a close relationship between adjacent neighborhoods Chinatown and Little Italy.  One of the most visible demonstrations of these ties occurs during the East Meets West Christmas Parade (Dec. 22 this year), a joint celebration that’s taken place during the past several years.  This year, however, groups in the two communities are trying to form even closer bonds — in an effort to save local businesses struggling in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

Ralph Tramontana, head of the Little Italy Merchants’ Association, told us this morning he fears up to 30% of the small shops and restaurants in the two neighborhoods could be forced to shutter by early spring. At his own business, Sambuca’s Cafe on Mulberry Street, Tramontana estimated losses from spoiled food could total $20,000.  Given the very small profit margins at most Little Italy and Chinatown restaurants, he said, “it’s very tough to pay a month’s worth of bills with a week’s worth of business.”

So last week, Victor Papa of the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council got various Little Italy and Chinatown stakeholders together to figure out if they could all do more to collaborate on their holiday events, which are typically operated in isolation from one another.   Finding common ground has not been easy, especially since many Chinese organizations do not have a history of working towards common goals.  But there are signs of at least some coordination among the groups.

This coming Saturday, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce and the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association are planning a street fair; restaurants and merchants will be offering food and other items for one dollar. The event is happening from noon-5 p.m. on Mott, Bayard, Mulberry, Pell and Doyers streets.  There will be live performances in Confucius Plaza, including a lion dance at noon.  Then at 7 p.m. a tree lighting is scheduled at the Church of the Most Precious Blood at 109 Mulberry Street.   Other joint events are planned in the next several weeks (details about those happenings later).

Not everyone is thrilled with the plans for Saturday’s street fair. One business owner, Wilson Tang of the Nom Wah Tea Parlor, said he will not be participating.  The idea of offering items for a dollar “cheapens Chinatown,” he said and “does not help businesses struggling to come back from the hurricane.”   Tang, a second generation owner of one of the neighborhood’s oldest restaurants, has long argued that Chinatown businesses must stop “under-valuing themselves,” and engaging in “counterproductive cost cutting wars.”

Wellington Chen of the Chinatown Partnership and the newly created Chinatown BID said he sees the value in creating neighborhood-wide events to boost foot traffic in an area that has never fully recovered from 9/11 and is now coping with new economic hardship.  Chen said his organizations are planning a fundraising campaign in the weeks ahead to create a small business relief program. In the meantime, he’s hopeful shoppers and eaters will come to the neighborhood in large numbers this coming weekend to give businesses a short-term boost.