Restaurants in New York City’s Chinatown have seen business drop dramatically due to fear of coronavirus, even though the city has yet to have a confirmed case of the virus.
Jing Fong owner Truman Lam estimated that there’s been a decrease in patronage of about 25 to 50 per cent, ‘depending on the day,’ at his restaurant.
‘It is a cause of concern, because it’s basically all related to coronavirus,’ Lam said, adding that ‘We don’t know how deeply people feel about it, especially because there are no confirmed cases in New York.’
In addition to seeing drops in patronage ranging from about 40 to 50 per cent, local restaurant owners noted that the neighborhood’s normally bustling streets have been significantly less crowded, especially considering what should be the current Lunar New Year celebration season.
‘It’s a ghost town in Chinatown right now. There’s just nobody around. Typically there’s a lot of tourists, stuff going on,’ Nom Wah Tea Parlor owner Wilson Tang told Grub Street.
He said that business at his historic dim sum restaurant in Manhattan, which has been known to command long wait times for tables and is frequently flooded by out-of-towners, was down about 40 per cent on February 3, making it the slowest Monday the place had seen in five years.
Although February is often a slow season for tourism, Wilson Tang said that ‘It’s just unprecedented, how the business has dropped because of this whole situation that we’re in.’
The World Health Organization declared the new coronavirus strain a global public health emergency at the end of January.
Since the outbreak started, there have been more than 31,400 reported cases of coronavirus, which has killed more than 630 people in China. The United States now has 12 confirmed cases of the virus.
New York City has had five suspected cases of coronavirus, but recently-completed testing revealed that the first three patients were negative for the virus.
Restaurateur James Tierney Tang said business at his Manhattan-based Hwa Yuan Szechuan has also been down 40 per cent over the last week.
He told the food news site that business at the buzzy Chinatown restaurant ‘has been gangbusters for the past year’ but that reservations had dropped since February started, with a 100-person banquet dinner being cancelled as recently as Monday.
Restaurants in New York City’s other Chinatowns are also reporting an unusually low turnout.
Xi’an Famous Foods CEO Jason Wang told Grub Street that not only has business at the chain’s outpost in Manhattan been sluggish, but that its restaurant in Queen’s Flushing has also seen a notable downturn.
The chain also has locations in Manhattan’s West Village, Midtown and Upper West Side, among others, which have not been hit as hard.
Lam noted that he’s heard that restaurants are now serving far more Chinatown locals than tourists, while Wang said that ‘the Chinese immigrant population in Chinatowns are also very wary of the virus and have been avoiding crowds.’
The restaurateurs said that there was no telling how long business could be done as a result of coronavirus fears, which is likely to have a tremendous impact on the mom-and-pop restaurants in the neighborhood.
‘A lot of the businesses in Chinatown are just getting by as is. But this is kind of a slap in the face,’ Wilson Tang said.
It’s thought that business might get some sort of an uptick over the weekend, during the final two days of the 15-day Chinese New Year celebration, surrounding the annual Lunar New Year Parade on Sunday.
Under typical circumstances, the parade all-but shuts down Chinatown, rendering the neighborhood almost impossible to navigate as crowds of locals and tourists descend to watch the festivities.
Chinatowns across the country have also been experiencing low patronage due to coronavirus fears.
On Thursday, Philadelphia’s mayor Jim Kenney went to lunch in the city’s Chinatown, encouraging others to do so as well.
‘Come back to Chinatown and eat — it’s great,’ the mayor said while at Philadelphia’s Ocean Harbor restaurant, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. ‘Chinatown is safe. The city is safe. America is safe. Everybody should relax.’
Restaurants in Boston’s Chinatown have also been more empty than not, following the revelation that a man who had recently arrived from Wuhan – believed to be the center of the outbreak – became Massachusetts’ first confirmed case of coronavirus.
A cashier at Boston’s New Golden Gate Seafood told WBUR that, at this time of the year, the restaurant should have had multiple diners, but on that particular day, there was nobody except a waiter sitting at one of the tables.
‘There are no customers, so there’s no work to do,’ she said.
Steven Chen, who owns Boston restaurant and bakery Great Taste told the radio station that ‘People [are]worried’ and added that ‘If I have no business, I have to lay off some employees, right? If I have no business, I can’t pay rent.’