Volume 17, Number 39 | February 17-23, 2005

Photo by Stuart Ramson, courtesy of Explore Chinatown
Lion dancers at Mott and Bayard Sts. mark the beginning of the Year of the Rooster, 4703.
Downtown Express photo by Corky Lee
Fortune gods and Girl Scout Troop 3197 at the parade.
Downtown Express photo by Corky Lee
Fortune gods and lion dancers recited the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag before Chinatown’s Lunar New Year parade Sunday.
Businesses report more prosperity at this year’s parade

By Divya Watal

Chinatown’s Lunar New Year parade and festival on Sunday, Feb. 13, not only splashed color across the neighborhood and charged Mott, E. Broadway, Bowery and Canal Streets in Lower Manhattan with festive energy, it also left business owners amazed at the enormous economic impact.

Organized and coordinated this year by Explore Chinatown, a tourism promotion campaign set up in February 2004 and funded by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the New Year parade and festival drew about 350,000 visitors, according to campaign officials. Although Chinatown has had Lunar New Year parades for many years now, this was the first time it was done on such a grand scale and marketed so aggressively, thanks to Explore Chinatown.

“There were 350,000 people at the parade, and if each of them spent $15 – you do the math – it has a significant impact on the economy of Chinatown,” said Telly Wong, project manager for Explore Chinatown.

Judging from the serpentine lines that coiled around almost every restaurant in the neighborhood, it seems businesses couldn’t cook, clean, clear tables and seat customers fast enough to cater to the inundation of parade watchers.

“It was a huge party – there were so many people,” said William Chan, manager of Chanoodle, a Chinese restaurant at 79 Mulberry St. Chan was surprised – although not unpleasantly – at the number of customers he received on Sunday. Business was better this year than it was last year on Chinese New Year, he said, adding that his restaurant’s profits from the day of the parade were more than many months of profits.

“Everything is bigger this year,” Chan said, attributing the recent boost in business to the fireworks and special parade. Last year, people still had 9/11 on their minds, he added, but now they’ve forgotten about it and worry less about attacks.

Whether the floats, marching bands, lion and dragon dancers, musical performers, magicians and acrobats did the trick, or whether it was the diminished fear of terrorist attacks, Chinatown drew so many visitors to its streets this day, there was hardly an inch of free space. Business owners seemed overwhelmed but grateful to the organizers.

“Explore Chinatown is doing a good job helping the Chinatown community,” said Kenny Tran, manager of Pho Viet Huong, a Vietnamese restaurant at 73 Mulberry St. “I hope they continue this [the parade] next year. It helps the Chinatown culture – that’s the best way to improve the economy. No complaints here.” His restaurant made around 25 percent more this Chinese New Year than last year, Tran added.

However, not everyone was thrilled with the swarm of parade watchers. Many vendors along Canal St. complained that people were more interested in eating than they were in shopping.

“Business is down – last year [was] better,” said Liton Wong, the owner of Com Pho Thanh-Huong, a trinket shop at 271 Canal St. “People don’t want [to] spend money because [the] economy is down.” Not too many people bought merchandise from his store on the day of the parade, Wong said, adding that Explore Chinatown was having “little effect” on his business.Another disgruntled vendor offered an additional reason for the lack of customers at his store

“Chinese people [do] not like to buy things – [they] like to eat food,” said Kunga Tenzin, a Tibetan immigrant who owns a bag store at the corner of Canal and Centre Sts.

The problem, likely, had more to do with the nature of the parade.

“People get hunger pangs after a few hours of standing around – they have to eat, but they don’t have to buy paper dragons,” said Bonnie Wong, president of Asian Women in Business, Explore Chinatown’s partner organization that gives technical assistance to businesses in Chinatown. Many non-Asians people were, in fact, buying Lunar New Year trinkets, according to Wong – it just depends on which vendors you talk to. There are always people who complain, she said, because they don’t realize that the effects of the parade are long term – people will come back for more, once they have tasted the delights of Chinatown.

Despite some reservations on the part of street vendors, most businesses, particularly the restaurants and bakeries, would like to see a repeat of this year’s marketing of the parade in future years. Like Wong, they expect people will revisit Chinatown’s businesses during the rest of the year, now that they know what it can offer.

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