Several of the biggest and most popular dim sum restaurants and Cantonese banquet halls in Sunset Park have closed this week in light of novel coronavirus fears — some of the first major closures after weeks of declining sales due to xenophobic associations between Chinese restaurants and the illness. Most of them are hoping to reopen, though it’s not clear when that will be possible.
East Harbor Seafood Palace, Bamboo Garden, Park Asia, and Affable all closed this week due to declines in business, according to staffers and the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. Though many restaurants in New York’s major Chinatowns have seen dramatic drops over the last few weeks, sprawling dim sum parlors have been gotten hit especially hard, says the chamber’s president Randy Peers.
More than 150 people in New York state tested positive for the virus, including 36 in New York City, but risk for New Yorkers remains low, according to city officials. However, these restaurants have big spaces, and with concerns about large crowds, the businesses have suffered. “Patrons are not going to large venues under the circumstances,” Peers says.
All of the restaurants had large rooms and communal tables, and they were frequently swarmed with customers on the weekends for both brunch and multi-generational family celebrations. A staffer at Bamboo Garden said the business is going to wait to see how it goes before reopening, while an East Harbor staffer hopes it could happen within a month. One of the few restaurants like this still open is Pacificana, which was in business as of Tuesday afternoon.
“It’s not like you can just close, do a deep clean and reopen,” Peers says. “There’s other considerations. If people are advised to avoid large gatherings, these restaurants are at a disadvantage.”
Restaurants across the city are starting to see dips in business. But the Chinatowns in Manhattan, Flushing, and Brooklyn — as well as some Asian restaurants across the city — have had declines for weeks due to the association with the virus, even though none of the initial confirmed cases in NYC were people who came from China.
Some fear this is just the beginning of the new coronavirus’s economic impact on the restaurant scene. Flushing Chamber of Commerce’s executive director John Choe says he’s seen many food hall stalls close, and after talking with a dozen businesses on Monday, at least three of them said they may shut down.
It hasn’t helped that he’s seen the press use images of Flushing and people in the neighborhood for stories about coronavirus, when in fact the piece had no mention of the neighborhood, he says.
“All businesses are suffering. It’s devastating the local economy from the stigma around the coronavirus,” Choe says. “There’s a sense that Flushing is being racially profiled in some ways and unfairly scapegoated for this epidemic public health issue.”
There are some measures hoping to curb the financial blow. On Monday, the city announced that it would offer small businesses interest-free loans and cash grants in response to new coronavirus impacts. But officials will need to get “a lot more creative and more innovative” in addressing this if the city wants to keep its small businesses, Choe says. On Wednesday at 6 p.m., the chamber is planning a meeting at St. George’s church in Flushing to discuss potential solutions, and it’s been organizing weekly lunches at local lunches out of solidarity.
“We are trying to bring more resources and find more ways to address the issues,” he says. “I don’t know if we’re going to be able to help people in time. Some of them may end up closing.”