Chinatown Restaurants Struggling in the Time of COVID-19

Posted on: March 13th, 2020 at 5:00 am by

Photo: Karlin Chan

Chinatown businesses have taken a direct hit as a result of fear and xenophobia due to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) outbreak, even though there are no confirmed cases in the community.

Four large-scale restaurants have announced temporary closings in order to survive the pandemic, which has scared away tourists and locals from Chinatown and large gathering places. Most notably, the Jing Fong banquet hall closed yesterday, and will remain out of commission until the 500-person occupancy ban is lifted (likely months); Golden Unicorn (East Broadway), 28 Delight Restaurant (Pell Street), and Congee Village (Allen Street) are also closed and will assess the situation as it unfolds.

According to restaurant management, these closings are necessary to save money and hopefully stay afloat to avoid a permanent closure.

This past Chinese Lunar New Year has seen a steep drop in tourism and revellers thanks to an early stigma at the onset of the virus, and now a rash of closures. Crowds are half of prior years. Jing Fong, which is the setting for many a spring banquet, has seen unprecedented cancellations resulting in purported losses exceeding $1 million.

Photo: Karlin Chan

Crowded restaurants don’t necessarily equate to generous profits thanks to overhead and payroll costs. Dim sum service itself is not profitable and big-box dim sum places need an equally impressive dinner service to turn a profit. Many also depend on traditional Chinese community-based organizations and family association functions to fill the void. This new year season has been dismal.

The city and state have announced availability of no-interest loans for businesses suffering a 25% or more loss, but loans inevitably have to be repaid. Why isn’t government doing more in the form of emergency grants or tax freezes to help small business and property owners who will eventually feel the pinch if restaurants are unable to pay rents? Also, shouldn’t the state authorize emergency unemployment for laid-off workers?

Chinatown is resilient. It rebounded in the aftermath of September 11 and, with support, will do so again after COVID-19.

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