Vancouver Chinatown advocates call for emergency measures to help neighbourhood

·2 min read

A coalition of advocacy groups in Chinatown is calling on the City of Vancouver to keep the historic neighbourhood thriving through the pandemic.

Susanna Ng, co-owner of New Town Bakery and Restaurant, says business at the eatery has changed drastically since the start of the pandemic. While Ng says they are surviving with a contingent of loyal customers, most neighbourhood seniors who used to hang out in the cafe have stayed away.

"We haven't seen them since we re-opened in May," Ng said.

CBC
CBC

Other establishments have reduced hours or shuttered completely, like Goldstone Bakery, a beloved community hub.

Michael Tan, the co-chair of the Vancouver Chinatown Legacy Stewardship Group, says struggling businesses can pull the neighbourhood into a "vicious cycle."

"When you have stores starting to close or, you know, reduce their hours, it's a negative effect because ... there's less traffic, there's less foot traffic, less people visiting," Tan told host Michelle Eliot on CBC's The Early Edition.

According to information Tan's group obtained from city staff, 17 per cent of Chinatown businesses are empty compared to the citywide average of 10 per cent.

"We're hurting a little bit more than most neighbourhoods in Vancouver," he said.

CBC
CBC

That's why Tan's group has written a letter to Vancouver city council asking for measures to help support Chinatown businesses and arts organizations.

These measures include reducing street parking rates, opening up a city-owned parking lot to free parking, temporarily widening curbs, increasing street cleaning and investing in the community stewards program.

Kevin Li/CBC
Kevin Li/CBC

Tan says his group has received positive feedback from a number of councillors on the measures.

"What they've indicated to us thus far is they are ready to take some of these measures to city council in the next month or so. So we are expecting very quickly for them to move," he said.

He says these measures are urgently needed to help these business survive, and also preserve the less tangible community connections inherent to the neighbourhood.

"It's not just about those goods and services," he said. "It's the conversations that take place, [it's] that living culture and when we lose places like that, that's losing that cultural heritage."