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Archive for Tuesday, February 12, 2002

Chinese New Year brings hopes to Chinatown

February 12, 2002

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— Chinatown is hoping the arrival of the Chinese New Year today will bring a change of fortune to the neighborhood, which is suffering financially because of the World Trade Center attack.

"The Chinese have a theory about the New Year," said community activist Steven Wong. "To say goodbye to all the negativities of the past year  and, boy, was there a lot  and welcome in the prosperity and better luck of the next."

On Monday, the neighborhood's shops were bustling with last-minute shoppers buying paper dragons, lanterns and banners adorned with Chinese proverbs for the 15-day celebration. Along Canal Street, flower and fruit peddlers did a booming trade, while the Chinese character for prosperity hung about every 20 feet on Mott Street.

Even though the scene is very different from five months ago, the neighborhood of 100,000 residents  the country's largest enclave of ethnic Chinese  is barely just beginning to come out from under the economic effects of the terrorist attack that took place a half-mile away.

"Chinatown is really hurting," said Henry Chung, president of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Assn. "The restaurants are struggling, the tourists aren't coming, it's affecting everything here."

When the towers that loomed over the neighborhood fell, Chinatown, like much of lower Manhattan, suffered. Its streets were closed for over two weeks, phone service was knocked out and its economy went into a slide.

Because deliveries could not be made, garment factories, the neighborhood's economic mainstay, were effectively shut down. Even today, many factories remain idle or are not producing at full capacity.

Nearly half of the 17,000 garment workers are out of jobs, and many of the remainder are only working part time, Chung said.

"These people have worked in the garment factories all their lives," said Sue Lee, executive director of the Chinatown Manpower Project, which started a job-training program for garment workers who lost their jobs in the attacks. "They will never be able to return to those jobs, so in some cases, at the age of 50 or older, they have to learn entirely new skills. It's very traumatic."

An informal survey of 350 local business owners by the Asian American Federation showed revenue down 30 percent to 70 percent, and nearly 60 percent had cut their work forces.

With the idea of drawing as many people as possible to the neighborhood, many restaurant owners have created fixed-price menus  many with the lucky number eight in the price  to ring in the Year of the Horse.

The benevolent association has taken out dozens of advertisements in English-language papers and put together new year events like lion and dragon dances to lure tourists back.

"We are feeling lucky this new year, and I hope this will be the beginning of bringing us back," Chung said.

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