Since the pandemic, Chinatown businesses have faced massive revenue loss and xenophobia from people calling COVID-19 the “Chinese Virus.” Two years later, Chinatown had still not fully recovered.
In 2020 former President Donald Trump continuously called COVID-19: the “Chinese Virus” ‘Kung flu” and claimed that it was not racist because it first started in Wuhan, China.
The same year, the United States Department of Justice released the 2020 Hate Crime Statistic, in which 62% of offenders were motivated by race, ethnicity, or ancestry. The statistic also indicates that anti-Asian hate crime increased by 77% across the U.S. in 2020.
Chicago’s Chinatown is a historic neighborhood established more than 100 years ago. It has always been a magnet for tourists and a special place for locals with tasty food, karaoke bars, markets, and shops. When you visit Chinatown, the first thing you see is a large gate with symbols that in English translate to “The World is for all.” But because of the virus’s origins, many people across the City were hesitant to visit the neighborhood.
Many businesses were forced to close, and those that stayed open still cannot return to the pre-pandemic revenue. In 2021, U.S. Congress announced a Restaurant Revitalization Fund with the Small Business Administration to help Chinatown businesses that managed to stay open.
“We won some grants, but there was a leaking ship, we had a hole, we’re trying to bail out,” said Spencer Ng, Triple Crown restaurant owner. “These little grants help [but] they’re not going to solve all the problems overnight. Our sales are not back to pre-pandemic.” Triple Crown is a family-owned restaurant that has been around in Chinatown for over 20 years and stayed with the same landlord. While many landlords were giving extensions and discounts on rent during the lockdown, the restaurant was facing eviction.
After receiving seven-digit grants from the SBA, Ng was able to pay off his debt with the landlord and pay staff, but it was still not enough to cover the $3 million he lost throughout these two years, he noted. The biggest issue that Triple Crown currently faces is a staff shortage, along with many other restaurants.
“I’m sure everyone now has a worker shortage. I don’t know where people have gone; they’re just not coming back to the business,” said Kai Liang, MCCB restaurant owner. MCCB has been around in Chinatown square since 2017 with his business partner. Before the pandemic, they did not focus on delivery orders but created a loyal customer base that supported them throughout the pandemic.
After receiving the SBA grant, Liang was able to use it for three months to pay employees and restaurant rent. In 2020 MCCB lost over half of their revenue, and although now it’s getting better because of the delivery costs, they are making 20 percent less compared to pre-pandemic.
Ken Kee is a Hong Kong-style noodle restaurant and has been in Chinatown for over 30 years, but Mui took it over with his business partner only two years ago. The restaurant was under planned construction for 14 months and reopened a year ago, which helped prepare for losses
The restaurant received a six-figure grant from the SBA that was mainly used to pay staff, and they are still experiencing shortages as well, Mui said. But returning to business, the suppliers have been charging more for the same amount of products, Mui added.
“I wish the government can focus a little bit more in the Chinatown community. All the people [who] are doing businesses in Chinatown feel like it is not enough,” Mui said.
Cover Photo by Juan Ordonez on Unsplash