By Larry Tung
Like many people who are afraid of SARS (severe acute respiratory
syndrome) in Chinatown, Tony Yu stopped going to that restaurant
on Bayard Street since the rumor started circulating on the Internet
on April Fools Day that its owner had died of SARS.
A rumor is a rumor, said Yu, who works in a hair salon
on Bayard Street. But I just want to make sure there is no
To the business owners in Chinatown, luck is not on their side
as the business is suffering from one disaster after another. Panicked
by the rumors of SARS, many New Yorkers have been avoiding going
to Chinatown. The absence of customers has dealt a fresh blow to
the businesses there as many are still struggling to recover from
the economic downturn brought by the 911 attacks.
The rumor was later proven to be untrue as the owner is perfectly
alive and well. But the impact is devastating.
The business went down by about 40 to 50 percent, said
Mike Wang, an employee at the popular Ten Ren Tea Time, a tea bar
on Mott Street. Especially when the reports in the newspaper
came out a few weeks ago. Now the weather is getting better, the
business is slowly getting better.
But some business owners do not share Wangs optimism.
During lunchtime on a weekday in late April, there were only two
tables of customers at the popular Shanghai Garden Restaurant on
Mott Street, where the waiters almost outnumbered the customers.
We are losing a least $10,000 per month, said Ms.Qian,
owner of the restaurant who refused to give her first name. Dinner
is even worse.
To clarify the rumor and bring back business, the Chinese Consolidated
Benevolence Association (CCBA) has been trying to get medias
attention to inform the public that Chinatown is safe. On its website,
a capitalized headline in red reads SARS SCARE IN CHINATOWN
UNFOUNDED. Mayor Mike Bloomberg also attended a luncheon in
Chinatown last month in the hope of bringing business back to Chinatown.
Don Lee, Executive Director of CCBAs Chinatown Community
Economic Development Project, said the citys health officials
had repeatedly confirmed that there is no need to be alarmed and
that it is safe to visit Chinatown.
But the fear of it itself, and maybe the press and the images
that have been shown on television make people by association think
that there is a big problem here in Chinatown, Lee said. That
rumor has had a tremendous impact on us.
Just look how clean the streets are, Lee said jokingly
but added that the business has been slowly picking up.
Meanwhile, tourists, who are the main consumers in Chinatown, are
slowly returning as the long-awaited spring seems to finally arrive
in New York.
Dr. Franz Pfitzer, a psychologist from Germany, was visiting Chinatown
with his two children and said he was not concerned at all about
We read all the information before our trip and realized
there is no need to be concerned about SARS, Pfitzer said.
Its more of a psychological thing.
Worrying About Family In China
On the other hand, as SARS seems to be under control in New York,
with only 20 suspected cases, none acquired locally, according to
the New York City Health Department, many Chinese immigrants are
more concerned about their families in China.
They are closely following the Chinese-language media here to get
the latest reports on SARS in China, where the official number of
SARS cases is 2,601 as of April 24 but the actual figure could be
many times more.
Kim Jin has been dreaming about going back to China with an American
greencard since she landed in New York seven years ago. But the
way home seems to be a little longer than she thought.
Eager to make her first trip to her hometown in Henan Province
after finally receiving her permanent residency last year, she cancelled
her trip scheduled
for April because of SARS. I miss home a lot but my life is
more important, Jin said, now a student at a business college
in Flushing. I have waited for seven long years to get my
greencard so I can go home. But this is really a
Ken Lee, a graphic designer in Flushing who came from Guangdong
Province two years ago, shares Jins ache. He is worried about
his wife and young son back home, where more than 1,300 SARS cases
have been reported, including 50 deaths.
Although he misses his family terribly, he cancelled his trip to
China scheduled for late May and is expected to fly as soon as when
SARS is under control
I cautioned them not to go outside of our block, Lee
said. Fortunately, we have a market on our block so they can
get pretty much everything they need without leaving the neighborhood.
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