Chinatown is outgrowing its Eight Avenue britches. Chinese immigrants continue to pour in to the neighborhood. A walk down the street during the day requires quick and aggressive maneuvering, and jutting elbows. Goods displayed by stores spill out from the actual shops and out onto the sidewalks. An old zoning code capping the expansion of commercial activities above the ground floor, store owners who want to grow are now being pushed by city planners to try their fortunes on other streets.
While zoning laws prevent Chinese business owners from expanding further, a strong belief in “lucky number eight” is keeping merchants clustered on Eighth Avenue where Chinatown was formed three decades ago.
Chen Xiaojuan, 53, who runs a grocery market on the corner of 58th St and Eighth Ave is typical when he says he would “never give up” his doubly-enviable address. Chen is convinced that the presence of 8s surrounding his store has helped him tremendously in his success.
“Look at this corner compared to 57th or 56th Street. It’s always busier here. Maybe you don’t know why,” he says with a grin, “but I know why.”
The crowded conditions have thus far been trumped by the ingrained belief that the number eight leads to more prosperity. The word for eight—“ba”—and the word for prosperous—“fa”—are near homophones. It’s not uncommon for Chinese to pay more to have an “8” in their address or on their car license plates.