British Columbia

Closure of long-running Chinatown business raises fears for historic neighbourhood's future

After closing the store for three months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Li says she recently found out that her landlord isn't willing to apply for the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) for small businesses.

National historic site should be granted federal support like Granville Island was, advocates say

Jin Li says she's closing up shop in September after 15 years in business, because her landlord won't apply for the COVID federal rent subsidy. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

UPDATE: Jin Li, the owner of Chinese Art Crafts, said she has received a federal loan of $40,000, which will allow her to stay open until her lease runs out on Oct. 31, 2020.

Jin Li has owned her store Chinese Art Crafts for 15 years. But come September, the shop will be shutting its doors permanently.

After closing the store for three months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Li says she recently found out that her landlord isn't willing to apply for the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) for small businesses.

This subsidy covers half the rent for up to four months, leaving the remaining 50 per cent to be split between the tenant and landlord.

"Suddenly, you tell me I have to pay full month's rent. How could I afford that? We didn't even open," said Lin.

After 15 years of business, Chinese Art Crafts, located in Vancouver's historic Chinatown, is closing its doors. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Vancouver Chinatown Legacy Stewardship Group co-chair Michael Tan fears Li's store will be the first of many to close in the historic neighbourhood, because the businesses don't qualify for the available grant programs.

"Some of the other programs don't apply, like the wage subsidy program for businesses," said Tan. "There are a lot of these cultural heritage businesses that are falling through the gaps of what's available right now." 

In a letter written to federal ministers Mélanie Joly and Mary Ng on July 15, Tan said the stewardship group is hoping for a targeted support program, similar to the one granted to Granville Island. The tourism-based district was given $17 million to help businesses get back on their feet during the pandemic.

Tan argues, like Granville Island, Chinatown is also a tourist destination whose legacy, small businesses, rely heavily on tourism traffic.

"We're looking for the same treatment here in Chinatown to make sure we can weather the pandemic," he said.

In a similar move, Vancouver-East MP Jenny Kwan also wrote a letter to the federal government July 24 asking it to provide assistance to the businesses in Chinatown, which was designated a national historic site in 2010.

"Chinatown as we've come to love, and the history that it carries, will be lost as well," Kwan told CBC news. "This cannot be allowed to happen." 

Kwan said small businesses should be given the opportunity to apply for CECRA, instead of the landlords.

'I hope the other stores will stay strong'

Li opened her store when she first moved to Canada and says running the shop allowed her to learn English quickly through interactions with customers.

She also calls the store her second home because she's surrounded by Chinese cultural items every day. Her focus now, she said, is to clear out the thousands of dollars worth of inventory in the shop.

"I've cried many times because it's sad," said Li. "Nobody can help me."

Even though she's leaving, Li said she hopes other stores are able to survive the pandemic.

"I hope the other stores will stay strong."

The building's landlord and its management company were contacted for comment but have yet to respond.

The CECRA program was scheduled to end on July 31, 2020, but was extended by one month.


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