‘My heart is in Chinatown’: Business owners optimistic as crowds return for Lunar New Year parade – BC

Business owners in Vancouver’s Chinatown are cautiously optimistic about the future after Sunday’s Lunar New Year parade drew massive crowds to the historic neighborhood for the first time since 2020.

There were long lines at New Town Bakery, where the dining room was packed and owner Susanna Ng and her staff got a taste of the hustle and bustle of the area’s former glory days.

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“Finally, finally because we are so desperate, when I see everyone move out, when is it my turn?” Ng told Global News in an interview on Sunday.

Ng, who has considered relocating his famous restaurant known for its steam buns due to Chinatown’s continued decline, said he hopes COVID will “leave us forever” in 2023.

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“People are excited to be back in Chinatown,” said Fred Kwok, president of the Vancouver Chinese Cultural Center, who co-organized Sunday’s parade.

Click to play video: 'Lunar New Year parade returns to Chinatown after two-year pandemic hiatus'

Lunar New Year parade returns to Chinatown after two-year hiatus due to pandemic

After three years of COVID-19 brought a surge in anti-Asian hate crimes, street disorder and graffiti, community leaders and business owners in Chinatown are hoping the Lunar New Year crowds will help to bring return visitors.

“It has been very difficult,” said the company’s owner, Chirag Malik.

GMLK Gift Shop has been on Main Street for 17 years and Malik took over his property in 2017.

He said that he was able to survive the pandemic with the support of the government and is confident that he will.

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“We’re finally seeing a sign of hope, it’s the Year of the Rabbit, so we hope it’s a good year for everyone,” Malik said.

While the crowds are a positive sign, Kwok said there are still many empty stores in Chinatown and it will take time to “restore confidence.”

“I’m optimistic, I want to be a part of this and hopefully people can come here every day,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Vancouver Approves $2 Million Chinatown Revitalization Plan'

Vancouver Approves $2 Million Chinatown Revitalization Plan

Const. Deputy Chief of the Vancouver Police Department. Howard Chow said it was heartwarming to see the support for Chinatown.

“I think we’re now seeing this big quantum shift happening,” Chow told Global News in an interview on Sunday.

“Seeing the funds being directed, the resources being directed, the awareness, and hopefully we can start to make a major turnaround for Chinatown.”

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On January 17, the Vancouver council approved a $2.2 million Chinatown Action Plan to help revitalize the area, with a focus on cleanup and sanitation.

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“It makes me happy that people remember what Chinatown was like and what it can become,” Pender Street gym owner Ryan Diaz told Global News on Sunday.

Díaz made a heartbreaking plea to council members ahead of the January 17 vote, detailing how difficult it was to follow his dream during the pandemic.

“It’s so hard,” she told the council meeting through tears.

“It seems that you have forgotten about us.”

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During COVID-19, Diaz said her gym was closed as the bills kept coming.

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“My mom put her house up for sale to help us move on,” she said of the sacrifices her family made.

After the annual parade, Diaz said teams of lion dancers perform outside local businesses to help bring prosperity and good luck for the coming year, and he feels lucky his gym was able to receive the traditional blessing in 2023.

“Good luck for longer,” Diaz said.

Meanwhile, Ng, who has operated the main New Town Bakery location on Pender Street since 1980, said if the situation worsens, he will have no choice but to leave.

“If things get better, I don’t mind staying,” he said.

“My heart is in Chinatown for almost five decades.”

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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