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Brentwood School

Chinatown deserted: COVID-19 leads to slow business and harassment

Streets empty. Shops closed. Chinatown in Manhattan, New York has been mostly abandoned during the coronavirus pandemic. Previously a New York staple, attracting millions of tourists from all over the world, Manhattan’s Chinatown has seen a drop in business, according to the New York Times.  

Spanning only eight blocks, Manhattan’s Chinatown contains the highest concentration of Chinese people in the Western Hemisphere

The neighborhood features an abundance of restaurants, art stores, and salons, in addition to markets, clothing, and jewelry shops. Similar to other areas of New York, the streets are lined with vendors selling merchandise and souvenirs.

Today, Manhattan’s Chinatown is empty. The entire town is slowly recovering from a decline in business that began last year when coronavirus cases first surfaced in China. Months later, as coronavirus cases rose in New York City, fewer and fewer people traveled directly impacting the neighborhood. Local businesses were hit hard economically because of their dependence on tourism. 

Manhattan’s Chinatown also saw a rise in prejudice and xenophobia. 

Karlin Chan, a Chinatown resident and social activist who sits on the local community board, started a Block Watch last spring to protect the people living in Manhattan’s Chinatown.

Gaining traction on social media, many people expressed their support and joined Chan’s Block Watch.

“We started seeing verbal assaults and then there were some highly publicized physical assaults,” Chan said.

The Block Watch patrols through the neighborhood, he said.

“We’re sending a message that we are a multi-ethnic group, and that we will not stand for racism or xenophobia,” Chan said.

As a community leader, Chan said he understands what people are going through. Even though Manhattan’s Chinatown is starting to reopen, the atmosphere is not the same as it was pre-pandemic. Many restaurants remain closed because they cannot comply with city regulations. Shops and salons are open but receive very little foot traffic. As businesses reopen, guidelines are implemented to ensure safety. People are required to wear masks and keep their distance, but Chan recognizes that social distancing rules are not always followed. 

The affect of coronavirus on the community has made it difficult for local businesses to pay rent. Commercial rents are very high in New York City, making it hard to stay afloat. 

“It’s a rough trip,” Chan said. “It’s sad, but a lot of businesses are going to fail and that’s citywide.”