Teddy Mui is looking forward to the day he can reopen Winnie's Bar, ready to keep patrons protected and socially distant. Its roots date back to 1987, but now business is at a standstill.
"We're back on rent. We haven't been open for six months. Most of the money that's coming to Winnie's, it's coming from my personal accounts now," said Mui, holding on to the family business as other long time Chinatown establishments around him close for good.
What You Need To Know
- From the fire that gutted a beloved cultural hub, to xenophobia and the loss of vital tourism dollars, Chinatown is struggling through an exceptionally difficult year
- Leaders and business owners are frustrated that state and city agencies might be creating problems instead of solving them
- Business owners hope to assure customers that Chinatown is safe to visit
"So many restaurants, [like] where I had my first month's birthday," said Mui, "it's closed now because they're older owners and they kind of just like, I’m going to give up on it. There's Dim Sum Place. That was open fifty something years ago."
The pandemic is taking a toll on a neighborhood that's perhaps seen more than its fair share of losses this year starting with the fire in January that destroyed a historic building that served as a beloved cultural hub.
"Chinatown has been hit so hard, just one thing after another," said Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou, "also being the site of where so much of the xenophobia and the racism was targeted."
That's one of the reasons some Chinatown business owners have taken steps to assure customers that their restaurants and shops are clean and safe to visit.
"Every sidewalk, every gate has been power washed, every mailbox has been power washed," said Wellington Chen, executive director of the Chinatown Business Improvement District. "Now that we don’t have the 67 million tourists that are coming we're counting on the locals."
But, Assembly member Niou says city and state agencies that are meant to help, have sometimes created more hurdles.
"We have not had the language access to certain services, people are not explaining within the agencies like how certain things are navigated," said Niou.
Mui is frustrated at the punishing fines levied against businesses that are already teetering.
"One of my friends got hit with a $10,000 fine on the first offense, license suspended and there was no due process whatsoever,” he said.
Mui says he hasn't been able to create an outdoor set-up because of conflicting rules from the state liquor authority and city department of transportation. He's hoping there's more guidance from policy makers before it's too late.
"It's killing our unique Chinatown culture," said Mui.