#ASKANEXPERT is a weekly Q&A with NYC experts on our Instagram Live. Each episode features a guest that we love and we can rely on for advice to guide us through the pandemic. This week we spoke to Justin Mckibben, the founder of a volunteer-run organization helping businesses with no online presence, build an online presence.
The initiative is called Send Chinatown Love. Here’s their story.
In the midst of the coronavirus, the city so many of us call home is forced to grapple with a new reality. The city that never sleeps is suddenly empty. Its busy streets are now vacant as almost all stores and businesses have closed.
While almost all of New York City’s businesses have been affected, one area has been hit the hardest: Chinatown. New York’s once-bustling and vibrant neighborhood famous for its dim sum brunches, steamed pork buns, and big bowls of noodle soups is now a ghost town.
Almost immediately after the coronavirus breakout in Wuhan, China, many businesses across the world (including New York’s Chinatown) experienced large declines in business. Nom Wah restaurant, a normally popular dim sum spot where it’s almost impossible to land a seat on weekends, was wrongfully associated with the first coronavirus case in New York and experienced a 40% decline in sales as a result.
Chinatown has seen the earliest economic impact due to COVID-19 crisis. 70% of Chinese restaurant owners decided to shut down before the NYC mandated closure due to xenophobia, racism, and sinophobia – the fear of Chinese people/culture. President Trump’s usage of terms such as “kung flu” and “the Chinese virus” have only contributed to a dramatic surge in anti-Asian hate crimes and discrimination towards Asian-owned businesses throughout the United States.
Because of these circumstances facing the thousands of Chinese- and Asian-owned businesses across the NYC area, we decided to create Send Chinatown Love.
How easily will Chinese restaurants be able to sustain themselves going forward?
Although Asian Americans are seen as a “Model Minority”, they face some of the highest economic disparities according to the Pew Research Center. In New York City, 13% of the population is Asian, yet only 1% of government funding is dedicated to charities focused on the Asian community. And, with many Chinese immigrants being lower income as well as lacking English proficiency and the financial resources to assimilate and receive assistance in general, they are faced with an even more difficult road to recovery in the midst of the pandemic.
Therefore, while everyone is experiencing the economic impact of the coronavirus, Asian Americans (and especially Chinese Americans) will be one of the groups doubly affected by both its economic and race-based impacts.
While many dine-in restaurants are shifting to take-out and delivery-only during this crisis, Chinatown restaurants fear for their employees’ safety and are not able to leverage these methods to sustain their businesses.
Many restaurants in New York City are also adapting digital solutions to keep their businesses running to accommodate government mandates limiting restaurants to take-out and delivery-only orders. These include selling online gift cards or setting up pages to accept donations, and promoting these on their social media channels. However, the traditional mom-and-pop shops cannot afford to, or do not have the technical skills to adopt these digital solutions. They may not even have an online presence of any capacity – so they won’t be able to promote themselves on Instagram/Twitter, nor will they be setting up a GoFundMe.
Wilson Tang, the owner of Nom Wah, spoke to Gothamist about this very issue. “As a mid-size company, just getting that paperwork in [for the small business relief program] was very difficult,” Tang said. “The small businesses that are immigrant-run are the ones who are going to suffer the most.”
“The landscape is going to be forever changed after we get over this,” he added. “Unfortunately a lot of restaurants are going to fail.”
Who are we?
We formed Send Chinatown Love to help the immigrant-owned businesses in Chinatown that are most vulnerable to failing for all the aforementioned reasons.
Send Chinatown Love is a collective of people who care deeply for Chinatown and its businesses. All of us on the team have our own personal connections to Chinatown and this mission. Some of us live there, some of us eat our meals there religiously, and some of us come from an immigrant family that owns a Chinese restaurant themselves. For all of us, Chinatown is a place we feel at home.
Our goal is to identify restaurants who are suffering from the impacts of COVID-19, and help them raise money to sustain themselves until the effects of the virus pass over. We are leveraging our multifaceted team of engineers and cultural ambassadors to uplift the Chinese business community.
What are we trying to do?
We want to create a digital community for Chinatown’s businesses to sustain themselves during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. In short, we want to give merchants an online platform who otherwise wouldn’t have one.
How are we trying to do this?
Currently, there are a plethora of initiatives that collect merchant websites – encouraging people to buy gift cards, order delivery, or donate. While we rally behind all of these campaigns, we couldn’t help but notice that merchants who don’t already have online stores or offer delivery are left behind. Unfortunately, many of these merchants are based in Chinatown.
Our mission is to try and empower the businesses that are most vulnerable. Our target merchants are located across the 9 NYC Chinatowns (Manhattan Chinatown, Flushing, Bensonhurst, and Sunset Park, to name a few). They are:
● Asian-owned small businesses that do not have actively managed websites, online delivery service, or gift cards set up
● Immigrant business owners who may not speak or read English fluently, run cash-only establishments, and are not tech-savvy
● Faced with expenses like rent, utility bills, employee wages, and real estate damages, despite not having their usual cash flow
We are building web pages for each of these restaurants to take donations and sell gift cards. 100% of all donations and gift cards sold will go to each restaurant. This way, they will have a steady cash flow to meet basic needs while their businesses are closed.
Our plan to bring Chinatown online during these uncertain times is as below:
● We have a team of fluent Chinese speakers to understand each restaurant’s distinct needs.
● We will work with each business to build them a webpage. This way, they can take donations and sell gift cards, and we can teach each merchant how to track gift card redemptions.
● We will handle all social media marketing and SEO to ensure that their webpages are discoverable and plugged into existing directories.
What have we done so far?
To date, we’ve onboarded two merchants since we started this initiative a month ago. Our Engineering team is in the process of finalizing the back-end and front-end of each merchant’s page and building out the payment flow, working closely with the Design team to create webpages and beautiful illustrations to represent each business.
While the Seller Empathy team continues to reach out to Chinese business owners and understand their needs, the Business team is hard at work promoting who we are and spreading awareness of our initiative, including social media marketing. And finally, our Partnerships team is talking to individuals (e.g. influencers / leaders in the Chinese community) and organizations
(e.g. Chinatown’s Business Improvement District, Apex for Youth, Slant’d, and other Asian-focused non-profits) who may be willing to help.
Chinatown was there for us when we were homesick and desperately seeking a bowl of noodle soup and cold tea. To all the tourists and locals alike who have visited NYC’s Chinatown and were welcomed by its ambiance and enjoyed its services, please lend a hand. Let’s be there for Chinatown.
Learn more about us at our website: www.sendchinatownlove.com
If you’re an organization or individual that would like to partner with us, please contact Grace at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’re a business owner who would like us to build you a webpage to receive gift cards/donations, please contact Ling at email@example.com
If you want to learn more about how to help but unsure of how you can, please contact Julia at firstname.lastname@example.org