Despite Zero Cases In NYC, Chinese Shops In Manhattan And Queens Suffer Amid Coronavirus Scare

Chinatown leaders and shop owners are begging New Yorkers to patronize their restaurants and shops after a weeks-long lull in business that they blamed on unwarranted fears about the new coronavirus outbreak.

There have been no confirmed cases of the coronavirus in New York City as well as the state, and only one case in the entire Northeast. Nonetheless, Chinatowns across the city have seen a significant decline in business.

“There’s a lot of cancellations. We know the foot traffic is down,” said Wellington Chen, the executive director of the Chinatown Partnership, during a Wednesday press conference.

Listen to Richard Yeh discuss his visit to Flushing with Jami Floyd on WNYC’s All Things Considered:

Chen said that in addition to talking to business owners, the partnership had also identified a decrease in trash collected in the smart garbage cans that line Canal Street.

“Across the board, from grocery to banquet hall, everyone we talk to, there’s no one who says, ‘I haven’t suffered,’” he said, adding, “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that this drop is severe.”

Travel restrictions have especially put a damper on visits from Chinese tourists.

“My business dropped about 60-70 percent,” said Chi Vy Ngo, the owner of New York Bo Ky Restaurant on Bayard Street. He said survival of businesses like his “depends on the public,” adding, “Come out show more support and this thing will go away very soon.”

Mohammed Shariful Islam, 35, who works at a souvenir shop on Mott Street, said he also noticed a dip in traffic and sales. January is usually a slow month, he added, but this one has been particularly bad, with daily receipts dropping between $600 to $1,000.

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The latest coronavirus has sickened more than 40,000 people and caused more than 1,000 deaths, mostly in China‘s Hubei province. Across the United States, just 13 people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus. An additional 60 cases are pending, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The flu, on the other hand, has sickened at least 89,597 New Yorkers so far this season, and killed at least three children. However, the flu only has an estimated death rate of 1 percent, compared to around 3 percent for the coronavirus.

Businesses in Flushing’s Chinatown have also been hit especially hard. Last Saturday evening, a popular dinner spot Szechuan Mountain House, which is normally packed to the gills through midnight, emptied out by 10 p.m.

Cheong Tak Chio, an acupuncturist and doctor of Chinese medicine who is the head of the Hubei Association, has run his practice in Flushing for the last 20 years. He told Gothamist/WNYC that he saw a drop in appointments beginning around the Lunar New Year.

Still, he said he was optimistic that things are turning around.

“It feels like it’s getting better. The community is rebounding,” Cheong said in Mandarin. “Now that everyone’s learning more about the outbreak and realizing that it’s not so bad, now you begin to see crowds return. I think give it another week, and Flushing could be 80-90 percent back.”

Chen Long, the owner of Heat Noodle, a restaurant located in the normally bustling food court in the basement of the New World Mall, specializes in the cuisine of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. A Wuhan native, he estimated he’d lost half his business since the outbreak started in late December. But he said he wasn’t too concerned.

“Worry doesn’t help, so I just do what I do as usual,” he said. “Try to make my food delicious.”