Welcome to Chinatown is launching The Longevity Fund, a small business relief fund that aims to fundraise $200,000 for the distribution of grants. Chinatown remains as one of the last working class neighborhoods south of Central Park, a legacy defined and supported by its microcosm of small businesses. While Manhattan’s Chinatown is a beautifully resilient neighborhood, the prolonged impact of the COVID-19 pandemic poses a great risk to accelerate the gentrification of Chinatown and the displacement of its residents and small businesses. The shuttering of such businesses would not only result in the loss of one of the oldest Chinese enclaves and one of the most culturally significant neighborhoods for Asian Americans, but it would also pose an irreversible risk to the working class residents it uplifts.
The Longevity Fund will distribute $5,000 grants to 40 small businesses to alleviate their overhead costs (rent, labor, insurance, utilities, etc.) with the goal of offering some reassurance and peace of mind to small business owners, allowing them to focus on COVID-19 recovery. The Longevity Fund will prioritize the most at-risk businesses based on cultural and socioeconomic barriers that have prevented them from applying for assistance programs, and will also consider how much their shuttering will impact the Chinatown community as a whole. It is vital that we ensure Chinatown - its community and legacy - will be here for future generations from all walks to life to enjoy. And to do so, we must do all that we can to say Chinatown will always be open for business.
Note: GoFundMe states that Players Philanthropy Fund is the Benefiting Charity, but funds contributed to this GoFundMe will go toward Welcome to Chinatown, which operates through a fiscal sponsorship with Players Philanthropy Fund (Federal Tax ID: 27-6601178), a Maryland charitable trust with federal tax-exempt status as a public charity under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Contributions to Welcome to Chinatown are tax-deductible to the fullest extent of the law.
More about The Longevity Fund & Chinatown, NY
About Chinatown and its Small Businesses:
Even from the beginning, small businesses have been the microcosm of Chinatown
Manhattan’s Chinatown (commonly defined as encompassing blocks from Broadway on the west to Essex St. on the east, and Grand St. in the north to Worth St. in the south) is one of the oldest American Chinese enclaves, beginning with the immigration and settlement of Ah Ken in the late 1850s. (1) Ah Ken found success after opening a cigar store on Park Row. It would become the first small business in Chinatown, laying the foundation for Chinatown as a “way station for working-class immigrants and immigrant entrepreneurs” (2). This deep rooted legacy of entrepreneurship has come to not only define the heritage of Chinatown, but is also an embodiment of its interpretation of the “American Dream” (3). It is characterized by the entrepreneurial spirit of its many small businesses while maintaining its cultural roots. Modern day Chinatown is still defined by this legacy with 98% of Chinatown’s economy coming from small businesses (4). As Nina Roberts eloquently wrote, “Chinatown is unique as it’s one of the only downtown neighborhoods in New York City that remains packed with individually owned small enterprises, from thriving mom and pop restaurants and tiny coffee shops, to plant stores and vegetable markets.” (5)
Why Does Chinatown Need Our Love?
Chinatown offers so much, but asks for little in return
Chinatown has always been a resilient neighborhood, weathering turbulent gang violence in the 70s to early 90s (6), September 11th, and Hurricane Sandy. However, COVID-19 has raised a fear that Chinatown is “on life support” (5), and without community aid or the return of pre-COVID foot traffic, it may not be able to survive as the cultural institution it is today.
Multiple factors have contributed to Chinatown’s dire need for support. Though all of the food and beverage industry across the United States is hurting as a result of the pandemic, the impact on Chinatown has been disproportionate. Rapid decline in business started in January 2020 - well before New York City’s PAUSE taking effect on March 22, 2020. By February 2020, declines in sales for restaurants were projected between 50-70% (6) and resulted in staff layoffs (7). Much of this is attributed to rising xenophobia associated with the stigma of COVID-19’s origin in Wuhan, China. New York City’s Commission of Human Rights reported 42% of total COVID-19 related discrimination as specifically anti-Asian (8) - despite Asian Americans making up only 13.9% of New York City’s population (9).
Though emergency financial support is available from the government and private grants, immigrant-owned businesses have struggled to qualify. In New York City, only 3.7% of small businesses received support from the Federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) program (10), and the Center for Responsible lending estimates 75% of Asian-owned restaurants stand close to no chance of receiving a PPP loan through a mainstream bank or credit union (11). Furthermore, significant sociocultural norms and linguistic barriers prevent first generation or non-English speaking businesses from applying for financial support.
What is at risk?
Failing to protect one of the most historical and socio-culturally significant spaces for the Asian American community on the East Coast would be irreversible.
Almost all of Chinatown’s economy is in its small businesses. Their loss will impact the Chinatown community and New York City as a whole. Even the closure of local neighborhood staples will have a significant impact, and not just because they are iconic institutions in a multitude of travel guides. The continued business and tourism downturn as the pandemic rages on globally is particularly detrimental to Chinatown because its restaurants are priced for volume due to its thin profit margins (5). Such pricing has given Chinatown a reputation for offering affordable and delicious meals to many of its infrequent patrons. However, these meals are also a lifeline for Chinatown’s local residents that rely on such low priced meals for food security. The median household income in Chinatown is $49,810 and 30% of residents live below the poverty line (12). That percentage is projected to increase as small businesses shutter, leaving employees without income. Unemployment has already rapidly increased in Asian American communities. New York State Department of Labor reports a whopping 10,210% increase in Asian American unemployment filings in early April compared to 2019. (13)
In 2000, 68% of Chinatown households that paid more than 40% of their income to rent earned less than $15,000 a year (14). In two decades, Chinatown’s rent-burdened landscape has continued with gentrification forcing the movement of households and businesses alike that can no longer afford to live and work in the area. One of the most striking examples of the behemoth of development is One Manhattan Square, a 800+ unit luxury condominium complex, with units selling for $1 - 7.7 million. The condominium was built over where a Pathmark used to be, one of the few supermarkets within walking distance for locals. As neighborhood activist Jan Lee said in 2019, “For gentrification, people think it’ll be $8 coffee, but before that happens you’ll displace a fishmonger or a fruit seller who is providing inexpensive food” (15).
Chinatown is among two of the last remaining holdouts as working-class neighborhoods in Manhattan south of Central Park (16). The larger than average settlement of Asians in Chinatown has transformed it into a hub for immigrants that wish to preserve their common culture while integrating into American society. Because of that, Chinatown has also become a bridge for first generation Asian Americans. It is a multigenerational neighborhood in which many can rediscover, or discover for the first time, their culture and heritage. The potential loss of such a neighborhood that has represented and defined the Asian immigrant experience would be detrimental to future generations.
Why The Longevity Fund
Chinatown has been resilient, but it needs more if we want Chinatown to thrive
The Longevity Fund will distribute $5,000 grants to 40 small businesses to alleviate their overhead costs (rent, labor, insurance, utilities, etc.) with the goal of offering some reassurance and peace of mind to small business owners, allowing them to focus on COVID-19 recovery. The Longevity Fund will prioritize the most at-risk businesses based on cultural and socioeconomic barriers that have prevented small businesses from applying for assistance, and the consideration of how much its shuttering will impact the last remaining working class community in lower Manhattan. It is vital that we ensure Chinatown, its community, and legacy will be here for future generations from all walks to life to enjoy. And to do so, we must do all that we can to say that Chinatown will always be open for business.
Applications will be made available on www.welcometochinatown.com. Visit our website to sign up for our newsletter or follow us on Instagram (@welcome.to.chinatown) and Facebook (Welcome to Chinatown) for updates.
-1st Round: COMPLETE. Read more here.
-2nd Round Applications: Closed
-2nd Round Recipients Announced: Week of December 7th
Eligibility Criteria for Small Businesses:
-Located in Manhattan Chinatown in zip codes 10002, 10013, and 10038
-Maintaining premises (paying rent or other maintenance expenses)
-Operating with consistent open hours prior to COVID-19 (minimum 30 hours per week)
-Locally-owned (privately held by New York / New Jersey residents)
-Business may have no more than three (3) outlets or locations total
-May not be a recipient of other COVID-19 grant support greater than $5,000
-Business owner must be able to complete and sign a W-9 form