In many ways, Chinatown has been ground zero for the economic impact of the coronavirus. The area faced an economic slowdown about three weeks ago, when concerns about the virus first started to materialize in the U.S.
Many of the area’s restaurants and shops saw a drop-off in business that has since turned into a near complete shutdown.
On Monday afternoon, only a handful of restaurants – the economic lifeblood of the neighborhood – were open for carryout or delivery service. Mabel Moy, chair of the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, says that business has ground to a halt, but she’s working on coordinating small business loans for members, and she’s keeping her fingers crossed that a federal stimulus bill can serve as a lifeline to keep these businesses open.
“Before it was 40% to 50% down, now its 80% down,” Moy said. “It seems like not too many people are ordering carryout. Hopefully, the first week people have a lot of food at home and they try to cook, but after a week or two, they hopefully will come here and get carryout.”
Most of the businesses have shut down, Moy says, because they can’t continue to operate and pay rent, utilities and other costs. This mirrors the situation all across the city and state, as the hotel trade association released numbers showing that nearly half of workers in that industry have been furloughed or laid off, or will be the longer this shutdown persists.
We visited the one restaurant on Wentworth in the heart of Chinatown that we saw open for lunch – Triple Crown – which processed a steady stream of delivery orders. The owner says he has been able to do about 20% of his regular business, and that he has downsized from 35 full-time workers, to seven who do one- or two-day shifts to make a partial salary at least.
“We’re trying to make sure everybody gets a little money to support their families, make rent,” said Triple Crown owner Spencer Ng. “It rotates weekly, trying to work with the landlord also with the rent, because it’s super high. We’re just playing a numbers game now. He’s being proactive, but it’s still an ongoing conversation. We’ve been in Chinatown since 1992, and I’m the second-generation restaurateur, and we want to keep the business going. But it’s kind of hard with the pandemic, facing a situation nobody’s ever been through before.”
One of the things he said was that he’s already written off 2020; the restaurant will be in the red for the year, he said. Right now, they’re in survival mode, and decisions need to be made about whether to take out a small business loan at around 3.75% to keep the restaurant operating.
Moy says some local banks are in the process of working out favorable terms to Chinatown businesses in order for them to survive. She says it’s an all-hands-on-deck approach, but she remains hopeful that the small but growing community can come out of the coronavirus shutdown intact.
Follow Paris Schutz on Twitter: @paschutz
Covid Across Chicago
How is the novel coronavirus impacting local businesses, residents and social service agencies across the city and region? And how are local leaders handling the crisis? We hit the streets to answer those questions and more in our ongoing reporting series, COVID-19 Across Chicago. See where we’ve been and what we’ve discovered in this overview.