Mar 18, 2020 - Economy & Business

Chinatowns felt the coronavirus pain even before wider shutdowns

People walk the streets of Soho and Chinatown wearing face masks in London. Photo: Alberto Pezzali/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Even before cities began shutting down restaurants and bars, Chinatown neighborhoods around the world were among the first to see a significant slowdown in business — mostly due to consumers' misguided fears about a virus that originated thousands of miles away.

Why it matters: "There's a second virus, which is xenophobia," Wellington Chen, executive director of the Chinatown Partnership Local Development Corporation in New York City, told WNYC last week.

  • Based on trash cans — which are WiFi-connected and can sense garbage volume — as a gauge for activity, Chen estimates foot traffic was down 40%–80%.

Details: In Houston, a false rumor in January about an infected worker in Chinatown caused business to plunge by more than 50%, the owners of Mala Sichuan Bistro told the Houston Chronicle. Members of the kitchen staff have already been laid off.

  • Restaurants in Oakland's Chinatown have cut back hours or temporarily shut down. One owner told San Francisco's CBS affiliate that business was down 90% at dinnertime.
  • Businesses that are staying open barely make enough to pay their utility bills, the station reported.

The big picture: Chinatown businesses felt the pain early, and now the rapid economic slowdown is a serious threat to small businesses and restaurants everywhere.

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Driving the news: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he would issue an executive order at 5 pm Tuesday closing all bars and nightclubs for 30 days. Restaurant closures will be determined by municipality, but those that remain open must comply with CDC guidelines restricting gatherings to less than 10 people.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Mar 17, 2020 - Politics & Policy