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New help arrives as Manhattan Chinatown struggles to recover from pandemic

Photo by Shirley Ng

In February, small businesses in Manhattan’s Chinatown reported revenue losses up to 80%. Now, as these businesses carefully reopen, community members are concerned they may not recover in time.

In response to these concerns, local organizations are helping revive the neighborhood economy through aid, cleanups and innovative dining solutions, Business Insider reports.

“New York City now, it’s quite clear that we no longer have the 66 million visitors from international tourism,” Wellington Chen told Business Insider.

Struggling businesses in the neighborhood is part of a recent national trend. As anti-Asian harassment and hate crimes across the country reach unprecedented levels in light of the coronavirus outbreak, many Asian American businesses report experiencing loss in sales and property damage.

Chen heads Chinatown Partnership, a non-profit founded in 2006 by community members to “rebuild Chinatown” post-9/11. its website states. During the pandemic, the nonprofit is helping local restaurants set up outdoor seating arrangements such as tables, chairs and tents.

It has also sponsored neighborhood improvements including Clean Streets, a daily neighborhood cleanup initiative which removed an estimated 15,000,000 pounds of trash since its inception.

Earlier this month, The New York Times reported a dining platform seating 120 people opened on Mott Street as a part of DineOut NYC, a pro-bono initiative by architecture firm Rockwell Group.

The modular outdoor dining system is created to allow business operation while following COVID-19 social distancing guidelines. Its primary colors and attractive design makes for a “socially distanced food court,” according to The New York Times. They also published a free toolkit to help restaurant owners arrange outdoor dining spaces.

“It’s been so terrifying to look at the empty city and see it just as hardware,” David Rockwell, the firm’s founder, told The New York Times. “In theater, when there’s not a performance, the art form doesn’t exist. In some ways, cities are like that. Walking around the city you see these big gaping wounds. And you see these pockets where people have started to dine out.”

Victoria Lee and Jennifer Tam started Welcome to Chinatown in March. The grassroots organization has started initiatives including merchandise partnerships with local businesses. It also established a Longevity Fund, a small business mutual aid which seeks to distribute $5,000 grants to 40 small businesses to pay for rent, labor, insurance and other necessary expenditures.

“Chinatown remains as one of the last working class neighborhoods south of Central Park, a legacy defined and supported by its microcosm of small businesses,” the website reads. “While Manhattan’s Chinatown is a beautifully resilient neighborhood, the prolonged impact of the COVID-19 pandemic poses a great risk to accelerate the gentrification of Chinatown and the displacement of its residents and small businesses.”

With the community’s cooperation as well as donations from across the country, these organizations hope to revitalize Manhattan’s Chinatown economy. A part of that, Chen told Business Insider, is just encouraging people to visit the neighborhood.

“Please come down here to show your support, whether by just your physical presence, buying a $1 item, or just walking the street. It helps a lot,” Chen said. “Chinatown is, to the credit of everyone involved, very, very resilient. These are tough fighters.”

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