A full 10% of small businesses in Oakland’s Chinatown have closed permanently during the pandemic, and the lingering threat of street violence is hampering any sort of comeback.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been an awful ordeal for San Francisco’s Chinatown, but our largest Chinatown outside Asia rebounded thanks to a number of built-in benefits; its world-famous Lunar New Year Parade did return with the full roar of tourist dollars to complement it, the long-delayed but still-imminent Central Subway to Chinatown marks a huge investment in the neighborhood, and it still has destination draws like Empress by Boon in the former Empress of China space (which just turned a year old), the new-ish swanky cocktail lounge Lion’s Den, and an aggressive schedule of street fairs bringing foot traffic back to the neighborhood.
None of these assets or aces in the hole are at the disposal of Oakland's Chinatown, which the Bay Area News Group reports is still facing a “dual pandemic” of violence and COVID-19. The news group points out that “Ten percent of the neighborhood’s 300 businesses have closed since the lockdown began," which is according to data from the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce.
But business is down not only because of the pandemic, but a string of violent crimes targeting Asians seniors, notably a February 2021 attack on three seniors. Many of Oakland Chinatown’s elders simply choose not to go out anymore for fear of violence. That's deeply impacting restaurants where seniors used to gather to sip tea and chat for hours, as well as banquet halls whose business has largely disappeared.
“There’s a way to contain the virus itself with vaccines and such,” the shuttered banquet hall Buffet Fortuna’s owner Tony Fong tells the News Group. “But if the public safety remains so bad, there’s no hope for Chinatown.”
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They have started some community events, in particular the Town Nights series meant to bring foot traffic, vendors, and an overall sense of safety to the area. But it’s going to take a lot more than that, and probably some serious investment by the city of Oakland, to resuscitate that particular Chinatown.
Image: Daniel Olsen via Wikimedia Commons