Throughout the months COVID-19 has devastated the globe, it has struck Asian American businesses and Chinatowns particularly forcefully. Business in the once-bustling Chinatowns, such as those in San Francisco and Seattle, has dropped by about half since the beginning of the pandemic due to the increase of misinformation, fear, and travel restrictions, forcing Asian American businesses to adapt.
Pew Research Center recently conducted a survey that revealed shocking statistics about the Asian community since the pandemic began:
- 39% of Asian Americans reported that people acted uncomfortable around them
- 31% of Asian Americans reported they have been subjected to racial slurs or jokes
- 26% of Asian Americans reported they feared someone might threaten or physically attack them
- 36% of Asian Americans worried a great deal or a fair amount that people might be suspicious of them if they wear a mask or face covering in public
- 58% of Asian Americans reported it is more common for someone to express racist views towards Asians
The rise in discrimination, hate crimes, and xenophobia against Asian Americans contributed to the lack of tourists visiting Chinatown and the decline in foot traffic. For decades, Asian Americans had toiled to erase the stigma around Chinatown, only for anti-Asian sentiments to quickly reappear. Unfortunately, the association with COVID-19 has accelerated the closure of small Asian owned businesses, even though no one should think someone is infected with COVID-19 solely because of their race, ethnicity, or that they are of a certain descent.
Before the pandemic, about one-third of Chinatown’s restaurants accepted only cash in payment. Many owners detested delivery services, and in Manhattan’s Chinatown, only 38% of businesses had a digital presence. However, after states closed in-person dining restaurants, only permitted takeout, and people traveled less often to local shops in fear of COVID-19 and in compliance with social distancing regulations, the community needed to find new methods for their businesses to survive. Adding to the urgency of the situation, numerous Asian American owners had difficulties securing small business loans because they only had paper accounting records. To combat the high financial losses and the dwindling number of customers, they adapted by establishing online stores, changing the audience of advertisements to non-Asians and younger customers, and implementing delivery apps.
If small businesses in Chinatowns do not have the revenue to continue, they will be forced to shut down and sell their stores, several of which are family-owned or have been passed down for generations. Over time, if more Asian owned businesses are replaced, Asian residents could be forced to move away and Chinatowns could lose their identity and shrink even further. For countless Asian Americans, Chinatowns preserve their culture, their family’s history, and are places where they feel they belong. Although small businesses are struggling in the midst of this pandemic, we can support them collectively, whether that is by purchasing gift cards, ordering online, or simply spreading the word about them on social media. It is the least we can do for a vibrant community with such rich history.