Chinatown Business Owners Blast Government Over Lack of Support

Almost two weeks after Hurricane Sandy, Chinatown restaurant and small business owners gathered at the Lin Sang Association to vent their frustrations over a lack of help from government officials, the World Journal reported. The article, by Wei Qi Luo, was translated from Chinese.

After facing a series of natural and man-made disasters, small business owners in Chinatown are frustrated. (Photo by Zhiyi Chen/World Journal)

Nearly 100 Chinatown-based restaurant and small business owners severely hit by Hurricane Sandy could no longer withhold their anger and exhaustion and blasted the government on Nov. 8.

According to the displeased small business owners, who gathered at the Lin Sing Association, Chinatown had been hit hard by 9/11, SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and the financial turmoil, causing business to go from bad to worse.  The ravages from Hurricane Sandy and the Nor’easter may be the last straw that destroys Chinatown.

“The damage is done.  The most important thing now is how to attract tourists and businesses back,” they said.

Seeing natural and man-made disasters coming one after another, the owners attacked the government and public officials for not doing enough to help.  They want increased levels of assistance as soon as possible, especially for the few small business owners with limited English skills.

Attendees listened to small business owners vent their frustrations. From left, Chi Wei Chen and Hong Shing Lee, of the Chinatown Manpower Project, Julie Menin, Robert Brown and Shirley Wang. (Photo by Zhiyi Chen/World Journal)

Julie Menin, who is running for Manhattan Borough President, sent 500 blankets to Chinatown via the Lin Sing Association on Nov. 8.  She also invited Chinatown Manpower Project to show impacted small business owners how to apply for federal loans.

However, business owners expressed their exasperation after tragic losses from lack of power led them to dejection and frustration.  Wallace Lai, the owner of Hong Kong Station, a restaurant with locations on both Bayard and Division Streets, said multiple times with great emotion that although he was able to return to business immediately after power was restored to Chinatown, the flow of customers has been less quick to return.

For the long term, he believes that the government should establish more bus stops and increase the number of parking spots to attract more tourists to Chinatown and to prevent the restaurant industry from collapsing.

Mrs. Zhu, the owner of Old Sichuan and Old Shanghai, two restaurants located on Bayard Street, said bitterly that the loss of power in the past four days caused her to throw away 50 bags of food.  The restaurants, though big,  only had one or two tables busy with customers.  The employees did not have much to do.

Excellent Pork Chop House only had one customer on the evening of Nov. 8. (Photo by Huiqi Luo/World Journal)

“After 9/11, the government immediately gave each of the employees a stipend of $500.  One month later, the government gave out another stipend of $2,500, with a total of $3,000 per person.  What about now?  Elected officials came to visit us when they wanted our vote, but where are they now?” she said.

Some Chinatown community organizations have already let the small business owners know about FEMA loan applications.  Xiao-Dong Wang, who is an employee at Excellent Pork Chop House located on Doyers Street, said that deciding whether to apply for the loan is a secondary issue, as his main hope is for customers to immediately return.  His restaurant originally had many customers from Wall Street, but they have yet to come back due to severe losses after the hurricane.

“The owner of a laundromat in Wall Street used to come here all the time, but he said his store was completely flooded.  His customers all wanted him to pay them back.  His losses have been quite severe.  I don’t see him anymore,” he said.

Wang is confident that in one or two weeks, customers will slowly return to Chinatown.  He and Mrs. Zhu both believe that Chinatown restaurants are quiet now because many customers are worried that the restaurants may cook spoiled food. Therefore, they would rather dine in the Chinatowns of Flushing, Queens or Eight Avenue in Brooklyn.

“Once we pass this difficult period, I believe the customers will come back.  Right now, we can only wait,” he said.

Robert Brown, the legal consultant for the Lin Sing Association, said he will help victims fill out forms for government funding or loan applications.  Victims can call the Association at (212) 233-6825 or (212) 233-6820.

Hong Shing Lee, executive director of Chinatown Manpower Project, said residents who need to fill out an application can also call the project at (347) 578-2618 or (347) 668-3805 to make an appointment.  The address is 70 Mulberry Street, 3rd Floor. People should have their identification and take photographs of any damaged stores or residences. This would help obtain funding or low-interest loans.

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