British Columbia

Vancouver Chinatown advocates call for emergency measures to help neighbourhood

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

Businesses in Chinatown have faced major struggles during the pandemic, they say

A woman buys herbal products through a plastic protective screen in Vancouver's Chinatown. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

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. 

Michael Tan is the co-chair of the Vancouver Chinatown Legacy Stewardship Group. (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.

Susanna Ng of Newtown Bakery says business has dropped substantially since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. (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. 

After more than three decades on Keefer Street in Vancouver's Chinatown, the owners of Goldstone Bakery and Restaurant are shutting the location permanently. (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."

With files from The Early Edition, Deb Goble