New York Chinatown improves slowly

New York City's Chinatown has lost millions in revenue and thousands of jobs due to two punches: 9/11 terrorist attack and the fear of SARS last year. Its economy is slowly improving but business remains down and it hopes to have a mini-book during the Republican National Convention.
Reported Steven Swanson, on sunny weekends the neighborhood's narrow streets, home to an Asian population of 56,000, are crowded once again, but the visitors are not spending much money. Boarded-up or shuttered storefronts testify to the lingering hard times in one of New York's best-known and most exotic enclaves.
With lower Manhattan, including Chinatown, declared off-limits to non-residents after 9/11, the twin pillars of the neighborhood's economy collapsed. Business at Chinatown's 500 restaurants plummeted by as much as 70 percent. And the garment industry in Chinatown, which depends on frequent deliveries and pickups, came to a virtual standstill. An estimated 25,000 people, or 75 percent of Chinatown's workforce, were out of work in the two weeks after Sept. 11.
Said Swanson, the damage to the garment industry was profound. One year after the attacks, 65 garment factories in Chinatown had closed, and a study by the Asian American Federation of New York estimated that the attacks cost the industry $500 million in revenues. And then, in early 2003, as Chinatown was emerging from the doldrums, the SARS outbreak in China dealt another blow. The link between SARS and China made New Yorkers skittish about visiting the neighborhood, especially after a rumor circulated on the Internet that someone in Chinatown had died of the respiratory ailment. The worst seems to be over, and Chinatown is hoping for a mini-boom at the end of August, when all of New York City is preparing to welcome visitors by the thousands for the Republican National Convention.

To help some of Chinatown's 4,000 businesses survive the post-Sept. 11 period and adapt to changing times, Asian Americans for Equality has put together about 250 loans, totaling $12.5 million, at interest rates averaging 2 percent. The low-interest loans are funded by a local Sept. 11 charity and New York state's economic development agency. (Source: Stevenson Swanson and Elizabeth Siegel, Chicago Tribune, August 3, 2004)

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