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CORONAVIRUS: CHINATOWN STORIES


“I was hoping New Yorkers, on seeing these posts, would rally their support and realize that Chinatown needed our help"


museums are shut in New York City. We know that Chinatown is hurting. Do you have any ideas of what we could do to help.” Young was touched by the request. No


other museum had reached out to ask: ‘What can we do to help Chinatown?’ Young told her: “I’ve been monitoring


what’s been going on since January and there’s been an immediate shunning of Chinatown business. I thought I should go to Chinatown and interview some restaurant owners and shop owners. I was going to post these interviews on my social media. I was hoping New Yorkers, on seeing these posts, would rally their support and realize that Chinatown needed our help.” Knight immediately got on board, offering


to post these interviews on the museum’s website. Two days later, Young along with Dan Ahn, a videographer who volunteered his services for this project, interviewed four restaurants and one store. She expected the stories to be heartbreaking but she didn’t expect to witness restaurants on their very last day open. As Young interviewed Peter Lee of Hop


Above left: Grace Young, cookbook author, preservationist of Cantonese recipes and advocate for Chinatowns. Top: The type of dishes that may be lost


Kee, tears welled in his eyes as he explained, “We’re closing. I don’t want to and I don’t know what’s going to happen next.” Walking into Hop Kee’s 52-year old kitchen that day was a shock for Young. “I’ve been in many restaurant kitchens. Chinese restaurant kitchens are always loud, full of activity, and full of life,” she says. “That kitchen was quiet. They were not cooking. Normally, there was a line out the door. There were


only two customers. The looks on the faces of the cooks, the dishwashers, the waiters – everybody knew Chinatown was in trouble. And no one knew what the end of the story would be.”


That night, Mayor de Blasio shut


all restaurants and New York went into lockdown. That was Sunday. He announced all restaurants must close by the Tuesday. “You’re only allowed to open for takeout, no more indoor or outdoor dining.” Even before the lockdown, from January


to February 2020, restaurants in Chinatown saw their businesses go down by 40-80%. Young recalls the series of events unfolding. There was an immediate shunning. People stopped going to Chinatown. There was a ban on tourists coming from China, followed by a ban on European tourists and American tourists. Between March and June, Chinatown was shut down. Out of 291 or 293 restaurants, only 29 remained open for takeout. Young says: “They were struggling. No one was making a lot of money from takeout, because most people go to Chinatown to eat, not to buy take out and bring their food back to their Greenwich Village or Upper East Side apartments.” On June 8, Chinatown reopened with outdoor dining and 25% indoor capacity. But, the crowded streets and sidewalks of Chinatown are so narrow, when they had outdoor dining they could not even put out 20 tables. “The lack of indoor dining and the lack of space for outdoor dining put a limit on the amount of money they could make. So I would say from June 2020 to March-April 2021, people were operating from 20-40% of pre-covid.” Young can list each legacy restaurant and


89


THE AMERICAS


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