Apr 17, 2023 - News

Chinatown's red lanterns need replacing

tattered hanging red lanterns

Storm-battered red lanterns in Chinatown. Photo courtesy of the SF Chinatown Merchants Association

Chinatown's iconic red lanterns are in need of financial support.

Why it matters: The lanterns, which were damaged during recent storms, help to support tourism in the neighborhood, which is still recovering from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

What's happening: The SF Chinatown Merchants Association (CMA) hopes to raise $50,000 via GoFundMe to replace the 240 red lanterns.

  • The campaign has raised more than $16,500. The CMA has already received $50,000 from the Robert J. Louie Memorial Fund.
  • If the funding goal is reached, the CMA will consider adding another 80 lanterns on an additional block of Grant Avenue, Jenny Chan, associate director for the CMA, told Axios.

What they're saying: "In Chinese, the red lanterns symbolize prosperity and joy, and we want to bring that to the neighborhood," Chan said.

  • The lanterns also serve as a security measure by providing additional lighting in the area, she said.

Between the lines: Grant Avenue is a central tourist corridor in Chinatown, but the street "struggled the most during the pandemic," Malcolm Yeung, an executive with the Chinatown Community Development Center, previously told Axios.

  • While Yeung believes Grant should remain a destination for tourists, he also envisions the street becoming a place that tells "the story of Chinatown and the contribution that it's made to the city, the state and the country from the perspective of this community," he said.
  • Yeung said that one business already anchoring this idea is the Chinatown Media & Arts Collaborative, which aims to tell the story of Chinatown through art and culture.

Of note: San Francisco's Chinatown is the oldest and second-largest Chinese American community in the nation.

  • But over the years, the neighborhood has faced a number of gentrification threats, ranging from the expensive real estate market to criticisms of how businesses in the area look.

Flashback: The CMA first installed the red lanterns ten years ago, Chan said, in part as a response to the growing ubiquity of Amazon and its effects on small businesses.

  • "A lot of the mom and pops were suffering," Chan said.
  • Plus, the CMA saw the red lanterns as an opportunity to make Chinatown "a more picturesque destination" that would draw tourists, she said.

What to watch: Chan hopes the CMA will be able to replace all of the damaged lanterns by June, in time for summer tourism.

  • "Our neighborhood's small-business owners have gone through a lot in the last three years, from the pandemic to Asian hate to a lot of property crime," she said. "So hopefully this is the beginning of recovery for our business owners in the neighborhood."

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