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An empty street in Manhattan's Chinatown with store fronts closed.

Documenting the toll of coronavirus on New York City's Chinatown

Grace Young, a Chinese American award-winning author of cookbooks devoted to Chinese cuisine, is documenting the impact of the pandemic on businesses and restaurants in New York City's Chinatown.

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A person crosses a street in the neighborhood of Chinatown on March, 20, 2020, following the outbreak of COVID-19 in New York City.

Credit:

Andrew Kelly/Reuters

It's been a month since restaurants in New York City closed because of the coronavirus outbreak.

But in the weeks leading up to the mandated shutdown, mom-and-pop businesses in Manhattan's Chinatown had been struggling with a substantial decline in patronage that started around the Chinese New Year on Jan, 25 — just as news emerged of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China.

Grace Young, a Chinese American award-winning author of cookbooks devoted to Chinese cuisine, is documenting the impact of the pandemic in Chinatown’s businesses and restaurants.

Initially, Young, together with videographer Dan Ahn, spoke to business owners on March 15 and found out that about 70% of storefronts had already been shut down.

“I never dreamed that we would be recording one of the saddest days in Chinatown history,” Young told The World. "By the time we finish recording the interviews that day, a couple of hours later, [New York] Mayor Bill de Blasio shut all the restaurants in New York.”

These compelling interviews, now part of the oral history of Chinatown during the coronavirus pandemic, are compiled in a blog called Coronavirus Chinatown Stories.

Young continues to follow up with business owners to document their concerns for the welfare of their workers, the fear of xenophobia and what some of them are doing to maintain their business viability.

From Young’s perspective, some of the businesses might not survive. “I don't think Chinatown as we know it, will ever be the same again," she said. 

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