A Chinatown on Long Island?

Real estate broker David Lin at a lot he believes would serve well for a Chinatown in Garden City, L.I. (PHoto by Rong Xiaoqing via Sing Tao Daily)

Real estate broker David Lin at a lot he believes would serve well for a Chinatown in Garden City, L.I. (Photo by Rong Xiaoqing via Sing Tao Daily)

Manhattan’s Chinatown may have declined in recent years. But Chinese immigrants are still moving into New York, and the influx has helped hatch a few satellite Chinatowns in and around the city. To those who know the Chinese community, the question is not whether the next Chinatown will be formed but where. If a municipal government or a real estate broker – or both – get their way, Long Island will be the answer.

Long Island used to be known as an area occupied by European descendants with agriculture and manufacturing the main pillars of its economy. During most of the 20th century, it was a major aviation center in the U.S. But after the Cold War ended in the 1990s, the aviation industry’s presence shrunk, and population growth stagnated for a while. Now whites still make up 75 percent of the population of 3 million, according to the 2010 Census. But the white population has dropped 4 percentage points since 2000.

Meanwhile, the Asian population – though it only makes up 5.5 percent of the whole picture – rose 54 percent in that decade, much faster than its 36 percent statewide growth. The Asian wave is even stronger in Nassau County, the more developed and affluent of the two counties on Long Island. Nassau attracted 40,000 more Asians between 2000 and 2010, a 62 percent jump that makes it one of the fastest growing Asian communities in New York State. The Census also found that among Asians on Long Island, 36,500 are Chinese, 39 percent more than 10 years before.

What’s more, the inflow of Chinese to Long Island is likely to have accelerated even more in the past four years, locals attest.

Lisa Wang, an investment immigrant from China, is one of the new settlers. After they got their green cards this summer, the Wang family decided to buy a house in New York. After viewing a few apartments in Manhattan, the Wangs signed the papers for a $2 million house in the hamlet of Jericho on Long Island. “Manhattan is too crowded, just like Shanghai. But the spacious and garden-like environment on Long Island is what you don’t easily get in China. My son will be entering high school in September, and the schools on Long Island are of better quality than those in the city,” explained Wang, who is from Shanghai.

Wang is not alone. Boasting a glamorous lifestyle on the “Gold Coast” where the mansions of the fictional Gatsby, and the real life “Wolf of Wall Street” Jordan Belfort and the late Madam Chiang Kai-shek are located, as well as top school districts like Jericho, Great Neck and Syosset, Long Island has been a magnet for affluent newcomers from China as well as earlier Chinese immigrants who climbed up the ladder to the upper middle class.

No one knows that better than real estate brokers. For Shawn Elliott, the founder of Shawn Elliott Realty, the message came through loud and clear in 2011. That year, five houses on Long Island were sold for more than $10 million, and four went to Chinese buyers. Elliott took his first trip to China. “Instead of waiting for the Chinese to come to me, I decided to go to China to meet them,” said Elliott.

Now the firm has opened an office in Shanghai and is planning to open another one in Beijing. Chinese clients make up about 30 percent of its business. By Elliott’s estimate, these days half of the houses on the Gold Coast that sold for $5 million or more went to Chinese buyers.

David Lin, a Chinese-American real estate broker who has been working on Long Island for seven years, also has been watching the trend with some sense of awe. “I have been following all the sales records of houses on Long Island. In the recent years, every year there are 100 or so houses sold to buyers with a Chinese last name in each of the top school districts,” said Lin.

Lin said many brokers now meet their clients not in their offices but at JFK Airport. “They go there to pick up the clients and show them the houses. Deals can be made in two days, with all cash payments,” said Lin.

Compared to the earlier settlers, the new settlers have attracted much more attention through their jaw-dropping purchasing power. And the influx is changing the demographics of Long Island and reshuffling the dynamics of its economy.

Many parts of the island’s community are responding to the influx. At Americana Manhasset, a high-end shopping mall that has about 60 brand name stores, there are Chinese-language web pages and a directory and a Mandarin-speaking concierge has been hired in the past few years. All the shops have now given their own cultural training to staff so that they can better serve the Chinese customers, and all of them accept credit cards under the China UnionPay banner, which is the government-sanctioned bank card network in China. “About 30 to 40 percent of our customers are Chinese. We expect the growth to continue,” said Deirdre Costa Major, president of the mall.

At the privately-run Long Island School of Chinese, which offers Chinese language and cultural classes at weekends, student numbers have been increasing exponentially from the handful in 1999 when the school was formed to the 400 now. “In recent years, we get a few dozen more students every year,” said Yong Luo, the school’s volunteer principal who is a practicing doctor. “We have 30 teachers and we hired five more this summer to prepare for the increase of students.”

Luo’s wife, Yingqiu Xia, also a doctor, has recently been hired by ProHEALTH, one of the largest health care organizations on Long Island, as the first Chinese-speaking physician to serve its growing clientele of Chinese patients. “In the next five years, there will be even more Chinese on Long Island,” predicted Luo.

It is in some ways a familiar story that has happened in several other neighborhoods in the New York City area. While skyrocketing rents and traffic issues because of additional security since 9/11 have been squeezing out residents and businesses in the traditional Manhattan Chinatown – its population has shrunk 8.7 percent according to the 2010 Census – Chinese have been invigorating other boroughs.

An event sponsored by the Chinese Center on Long Island. (Photo courtesy of the Center, via Sing Tao Daily)

An event sponsored by the Chinese Center on Long Island. (Photo courtesy of the Center via Sing Tao Daily)

Indeed, by the count of community group Asian Americans for Equality, now there are nine neighborhoods in the city where 25 percent or more residents are Asian. The large numbers of Chinese residents and businesses in some of these neighborhoods, such as Flushing, Queens and Sunset Park, Brooklyn, make their Chinatowns bigger than the Manhattan one.

But Long Island doesn’t yet have a neighborhood that can be called Chinatown. “It will come in time,” predicted Mona Ng, co-president of the Chinese Center on Long Island, a community organization that has been providing various Chinese cultural events and activities since the 1950s.

Ng said her organization has seen an annual 25 percent increase in membership over the last five years. She has also noticed the opening of new Chinese restaurants and grocery stores in the region. All of these are signs to her that a Chinatown might be looming on Long Island. Still, she pointed out one major difference between Long Island and neighborhoods like Flushing and Sunset Park. “Long Island is a very ‘long’ island. People are scattered. To have one Chinatown? I don’t know if that will work. There need to be more.”

Things may be going in this direction. Lin, the real estate broker, was recently hired by a local landlord to solicit developers for two lots of land located near each other. Lin believes this is a perfect opportunity to plant a seed for a Long Island Chinatown.

The landlord’s proposals include erecting 25 townhouses and a commercial building hosting a medical center and other businesses on the land sprawling across 10 acres. The lots, located in Garden City, are only a few minutes’ drive from Great Neck and Jericho, both with large Chinese populations, and are close to the Roosevelt Field mall, the second largest full-price shopping center in New York State. Lin has been trying to find developers who are interested in bringing Chinese residents and businesses to the complex to make it a “China center.”

“We hope to bring the best of the Flushing Chinatown to here. So over the weekend, people can come here to send their kids to a Chinese language school, bring seniors to the clinic, play Ping-Pong or mahjong with their friends and enjoy a good Chinese meal, all at once,” said Lin, who is working with an education agency to promote the project to potential investors in China who may plan to send their children to study in New York.

Meanwhile Nassau County has its own ideas. The county formed the Asian American Economic Advisory Commission last year and appointed Michael Limb as chair to facilitate the development of Asian businesses in Nassau. Limb, who was born in Hong Kong to Korean parents and brought up in Japan, has always wanted to establish an “Asian town” in the county.

“When I moved to Long Island you could only count a few Asians. Now the population is growing like a mountain fire. We are trying to bring more Asians to Nassau,” said Limb, who has been living on Long Island for 30 years.

Limb said his vision for an “Asian town” includes at least a shopping mall that features Asian products and also hosts cultural activities, a senior center, a hotel, and a movie studio that produces Asian-themed movies. “If Asian businesses or manufacturers would like to move to the area, the county can help them relocate,” said Limb. He also plans to take advantage of the EB-5 investment immigration program the U.S. offers to solicit investment for the project from Chinese investors.

The only thing standing between Limb and his Asian town is that Nassau, unlike the more agriculturally-oriented Suffolk, has little available land. The county government will have to acquire land from private owners to develop the project. “We have talked to some private owners. They only want to lease and don’t want to sell. That’s not going to work unless it’s a 90-year lease,” said Limb.

Michael Limb, chair of Nassau County's Asian Economic Advisory Commission (Photo by Rong Xiaoqing via Sing Tao Daily)

Michael Limb, chair of Nassau County’s Asian Economic Advisory Commission (Photo by Rong Xiaoqing via Sing Tao Daily)

Now he is eying some distressed properties such as the buildings belonging to the long-closed Fortunoff department store and a hotel that has filed for bankruptcy. But he has to wait for the court procedure to see how to proceed. “Hopefully the court will make some decisions this year,” said Limb. “The county is eager to buy. Once we have the land, the project will start very quickly.”

Not everyone thinks a Chinatown or “Asian town” is necessary or doable for Long Island. Indeed, five years ago, a group of developers had pitched a similar idea to the Long Island Association (LIA), the major business development organization in the region. The proposal floated among local developers and business people for a while before it sank into oblivion.

“We thought about it for a while. Then we realized it won’t work out,” said Chris Xu, a developer who was involved in the original discussion. “It only takes 20 minutes to drive from Great Neck to Flushing. And you can find all you need there. Why do you need a Chinatown on Long Island?”

Kevin Law, president of LIA, has mixed feelings. “We supported it. If we had a Chinatown here it would be a tourist attraction. It would be cool. But meanwhile developers cannot just build a Chinatown and only allow Asians to live there. The Asian population is already dispersed in our region. Long Island is a better place if we are more integrated,” said Law.

Frank Shih, who was the president of the Long Island chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans (OCA) until recently, said an integrated life might be easier for the Chinese on Long Island than anywhere else. And that reduces the necessity of having a place like Chinatown.

Although OCA is known as a rights organization, the Long Island chapter is more like a cultural branch. “If you have a Chinatown, when you need to protect your rights, it’s easier to find people to help you,” said Shih. “But a lot of Chinese here have higher incomes and are more educated. They haven’t got big problems.” said Shih. “I don’t see a need for a Chinatown.”

But Lin and Limb don’t agree. Lin said Chinese living in Great Neck and Jericho have already formed their own community on WeChat, a social media platform popular among Chinese, to share information and organize outings and picnics. “There are hundreds of people in the group. We are all immigrants to this country. We have some common topics and we help each other to settle. That’s why we feel the need to stay together,” said Lin.

“Asian people get along with anybody. Chinese, Korean, Japanese, we are all the same family. Why can’t we work together to show the American public how Asian people are?” said Limb. As for the short life of the Chinatown idea five years ago, Limb said things are different today. “People are really realizing the Asian power now. You’ve got to be in the system in the right time,” said Limb.

If their ideas work, Lin and Limb can count on at least one patron. “I will move my Chinese school and my doctor’s office to the Long Island Chinatown immediately,” said Luo. “Chinese like to follow one another. If we have such a place where many Chinese visit, our Chinese school will grow even more quickly.”

And the lure of nearby Flushing? “There are so many Chinese schools in Flushing. Why do you think our school is still successful?” asked Luo. “Flushing is too crowded and the parking is too tight. Many Chinese living on Long Island don’t want to go there.”

14 Comments

  1. Pingback: Six ways to celebrate Chinese New Year on Long Island : Long Island Report

  2. If Chinese people are moving to Long Island and want to create a Chinatown here, then why did they leave China? I have found the Asian people that are moving into Syosset people that do not mingle with white people, they only support their own stores so again why come to America.
    Also, Chinatown in Flushing and New York City is dirty and overcrowded. Why is that? They themselves are the ones to blame. They come to Long Island buy houses overcrowd them and do not take care of them. If they have money they are not putting it into the American economy, most are not US citizens, nor do they want to be. I see this as a losing situation for Americans. What do you see? Real estates making money for themselves without looking at the future.

    • Barbara you should stay in your house and die alone. You are a racist bitch.

      • Cindy, was there anything Barbara said that offended you? There is no reason to call her racist. Barbara was only voicing her opinion. There is NOTHING she said which can be classified as racist.
        BTW, I am Chinese-American and my family has been here over a CENTURY. My great grandfather came here in 1900 and insisted that we all come over for a better future.

      • Ellie Grossman says:

        Wow- such a nasty comment to Cindy. She is not racist. People whose families have been here for centuries and help build such wonderful communities are understandibly upset when foreigners come to the US and just take. The people before these new immigrants have worked as a community building beautiful homes, investing in their community and financially supporting their school districts at all costs. Then new immigrants come in, buying houses with parents, grandparents, children, aunts, uncles and cousins and all live together as an extended family under one roof and over populate the community and school districts that people before them worked so hard to build. The asian population does not contribute financially to the neighborhood stores as they go to Flushing for their things. There are so many Chinese people and now that they can leave their country they will continue to come to the US and take what does not belong to them. It is okay to come to the US but not in droves. Who opened the floodgates to all these Chinese people ?

    • Italian Americans and other groups have and still do that .Why should it be different with Chinese,Indians etc?

  3. I like Long Island to be as is. I don’t think they need a Chinatown. Maybe a Chinese center like the one in little neck but I don’t want a Chinatown.

  4. Asian muscle man says:

    Overalll, I think putting a label on dirty immigrant Chinese that setup Chinatown many decades ago may not even exist anymore than other groups as Tony touched on. Many Asians are often very driven entrepreneurs that only benefit the American system because of our family values in the importance of education, work hard and do no crime. Look at the history of real estates, wherever there are many asians, the real estate value in that area goes up significantly… do you know why? Our kids bring up the American school ratings in general! Many asians takes little from the health care system (I worked in three hospitals) nor social security but pay a lot of income taxes…Then there is your house if in the area will go up in value because of a desirable school system. As for setting up Chinese commercial centers (aka new Chinatown) only will make your town even more bustling hot, and you know what that will do to the nearby real estate values…

  5. Valarie Goudon says:

    Asians are known to be model citizens compared to others!

  6. Diane CERRETANI says:

    Wow how about all other nationalities are we entitled to our own towns also.

  7. I bet if thy made a Chinatown already y’all greedy asses be beasting over there taking every fucking food they got so shut the fuck up do you pay for land no I didn’t think so

  8. Cedar Swamp-Thing says:

    Although I do understand the (not necessarily racist) concern a few people have with such a quick influx of foreign nationals moving into an area I think this is overwhelmingly a good thing. I think one negative aspect of this is that the increased demand drives up prices in prime communities, perhaps pricing out young families and others (american citizens or other foreign nationals) who also seek to purchase there. I wouldn’t have such a problem with it if a significant amount China’s wealth weren’t the result of monetary inflation and manipulated debt. Essentially the chinese are, for the moment, a bit richer than they should be and when they pour their money into foreign communities it distorts the market which is unfair to other buyers. That said, they are keeping property values at a high but reasonable level at a time when the trend for American buyers is still skewing towards buying in Urban centers and not the suburbs. They are contributing to the tax base just like other homeowners and have historically been a very industrious immigrant group, contributing to and growing the local economies around which they have settled wether it be Malaysia in the 18th century or California in the 19th century. Renovating or building new commercial centers that cater to this group creates jobs- not just temporarily during construction either- it creates real, lasting local economic growth. And it allows for new, interesting cultural experiences and innovation from cultural amalgamation- which has been a hallmark of the American experience from the time of European settlement. It has made us more competitive and our ideas more interesting and our lives richer- even if it has at times been the source of friction and conflict. As for claims that they “don’t mix” with “established” residents: I’d first point out that the communities on the Long Island the Chinese are typically buying in have never been known as places where you would run over and “borrow sugar from your neighbor”. Social life in these towns and villages have always revolved around local schools and government, civic associations, private clubs and church. They will hardly affect anyone’s ability here to continue living just as they are and we will see that younger generations who attend school here etc. soon overcome the language and cultural barriers that have isolated their parents and become far more integrated with “established” americans living on Long Island. Now I DO I believe that while all people are created equal the same cannot be said for all societies or cultural positions. It’s simply not wise to allow people unfettered access here if they aren’t at least at some level committed to western ideals or the building (not just receiving) of a better life for ones self, family and descendants. However the Chinese certainly value these things enough to be a net contributor to Long Island and American society

  9. Peter Myers says:

    No one has mentioned the gigantic Brooklyn Chinatown. Most people don’t know about it, and almost no one realizes how large it has become.

  10. What’s up with their churches, 10 on a block. Sketchy. 20 different families living in one. Taking up all the parking spots.

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