SF’s Chinatown fears slow recovery, future

Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KRON) — Many people returned to San Francisco restaurants and bars this weekend since the city entered the state’s least restrictive yellow tier earlier this week.

As business begins to pick up across the city, one neighborhood in particular continues to struggle. 

Chinatown businesses say the area is still empty and many shops have already closed their doors for good.

As some may remember, Chinatown was the first neighborhood to see a decline in foot traffic and business ahead of shelter in place orders last year.

Now, more than a year later — they’re not seeing any increase in business. Many merchants now fear they’ll be the last to recover from the pandemic.

“We’re all dead here. No one showed up,” Kevin Chan said. “Look, no one’s walking in and they don’t know how bad we are.”

Chan, owner of Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory in San Francisco’s Chinatown, describes the neighborhood as a ghost town despite San Francisco being the first Bay Area county to enter the least restrictive yellow tier ahead of this weekend. 

His shop’s been cranking out fresh fortune cookies for 59 years, and in almost six decades, he’s never experienced anything like this.

“It’s not the same anymore. Before 2019, everything was so prosperous even with Mother’s Day I had a bunch of people waiting in line,” he said. “Now, nobody shows up because we depend on international travelers. If they don’t come to San Francisco, we have no people.”

Managing partner at Dim Sum Corner on Grant Avenue, Jaynry Mak, shared a similar experience.

Of the more than 200 businesses that operated in the corridor before the pandemic, only 45 are currently open — and many may remain permanently closed.

“Business now is maybe 10% of what we’ve done prior to the pandemic and that’s with outdoor dining open and 50% indoor dining,” Mak said.

Mak said she’s fortunate to be able to read, write and speak English, because unlike many of her neighbors, she’s been able to apply for grants and loans. 

“We got a $50,000 loan that we used to pay off debt but that’s like paying off debt with more debt so that’s been really difficult for us. At least we got that $50,000 loan,” she said. “A lot of the merchants, small businesses in San Francisco they only speak and understand Chinese and a lot of this programs aren’t culturally competent and don’t provide language access so they’re not even able to apply to have that hope.”

However, Mak says it’s not just the lack of visitors hurting Chinatown. She and her neighbors now close their doors early due to less foot traffic and safety concerns.

“Recently, we’ve had to board up two times. There’s a lot of Asian hate going around and a lot of safety concerns for Chinatown,” she said. “So I think that has contributed to the slow recovery of Chinatown.”

To encourage more foot traffic and visitors to Chinatown, the merchants association closes down three blocks of Grant Avenue to make it carless on Saturdays and Sundays.

While that’s slightly helped business on the weekends, shop owners there say it’s not enough and the city needs to do more to save this historical neighborhood.

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