A Year After COVID: Chinatown Inches Towards Normalcy, Fights Xenophobia Through Community Support

Tags: Currents Chinatown, Chinatown BID/Partnership, Crux, Currents, Currents News, Kam Hing Bakery, Pandemic, Racism, Welcome to Chinatown

By Emily Drooby

A steady stream of customers come into Chinatown’s Kam Hing Bakery. The busy sight is a relief to owner Liz Yee, especially when she reflects on what it was like this time last year.

“All of Chinatown was closing down. You saw everybody close their gates and then a couple months after, you saw ‘for rent’ signs, ‘for sale’ signs.”

Kam Hing Bakery has been in Liz’s family for three generations. They shut down for eight months during the pandemic, and focused on their other spot, Tonii’s Fresh Rice Noodle.

It’s been rough. But a year later, things are finally starting to look up.

“We’re making enough to cover us right now, so for me that’s a win right now,” Liz said, adding, “Chinatown slowly is getting back to where it is, but not completely.”

This has become the norm for Chinatown. Before the pandemic there were about 312 eateries in Chinatown. That number dropped to 29 by April.

Take a quick walk down the sidewalk and it’s clear that things are getting better, but it’s still far from normal.

A recent survey done by the ground group Chinatown Partnership showed that only about 55 percent of ground floor stores in the area are back open.

The one bright spot? An outpouring of support for the community. From donations to words of encouragement, people all across the globe have gotten involved.

“The good sign is so many people wanted to help, so many supporters,” Wellington Chen, the executive director of Chinatown Partnership and Chinatown BID, told Currents News.

“It’s almost like this community came together and it’s not just people in Manhattan, Chinatown or New York City,” added Gabi Tran, who works with Welcome to Chinatown, a nonprofit started in 2020 to help the area though the pandemic.

“We receive a lot of assistance and help and donations from individuals all around the world,” she said.

However, now another ugly virus has reared its head: racism. Attacks against people of Asian descent are on the rise.

“We’ve definitely seen a lot more fear, especially within the workers,” Gabi explained.

While Wellington says Asian-Americans make up about 14 percent of New York City, he said it’s up to the rest of the city to help.

“I need the other 86 percent to speak up, to intervene safely, to distract, to de-escalate, to document.”

Another way to help the area in their journey to recovery? Tourism.

“But still you don’t have the kind of foot traffic,” explained New York City Council Member Margaret Chin, who represents the Chinatown district. “I think a lot of the restaurants are now relying on take-out and delivery which is helpful, but it’s not enough.”