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News >  Business

Misguided virus fears hitting Asian American businesses

UPDATED: Thu., Feb. 20, 2020

Frankie Chu, owner of Vegetarian Dim Sum House in New York’s Chinatown, sits in his empty restaurant that is usually bustling with customers, on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020. (Bebeto Matthews / AP)
Frankie Chu, owner of Vegetarian Dim Sum House in New York’s Chinatown, sits in his empty restaurant that is usually bustling with customers, on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020. (Bebeto Matthews / AP)
From staff and wire reports

Asian American businesses in some major cities around the country are seeing a dramatic decline in customers as fear about the coronavirus outbreak from China spreads and health officials try to stanch the financial bleeding through information campaigns.

But that isn’t necessarily the case in Spokane. A number of local Asian American businesses say customers haven’t mentioned the outbreak and managers haven’t noticed any changes in customer traffic.

“I keep reading about it and waiting for it to hit” Spokane businesses, said Tom Tyson, co-owner of Oriental Market on East Trent Avenue. “It honestly hasn’t really affected us.”

Meanwhile, a burgeoning Asian American community in Arizona fields xenophobic calls about a planned night market featuring Asian street foods.

In New York, a dim sum restaurant owner worries he won’t make rent. In the San Francisco Bay Area, a local Asian American-owned restaurant chain is mulling temporarily shuttering one of its properties because of the downturn in trade.

Casey Riendeau, a co-owner and chef at Gordy’s Sichuan Cafe on East 29th Avenue in Spokane, said traffic at the restaurant has been normal and he hadn’t heard of any issues at other businesses as of Wednesday.

“It’s all been pretty much business as usual,” Riendeau said.

A manager at Asian World Food Market on North Division Street said the store was “very busy” Wednesday and had seen no effects from potential fear about coronavirus.

But some managers think Spokane’s Asian American businesses might feel the effects of coronavirus fears now that four patients with the virus have been sent to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center for care.

Cathay Inn manager Devy Glowen said “maybe after that” news about patients coming to Spokane, people grow more concerned about the virus. He hadn’t heard any discussion among customers about the virus as of Thursday afternoon.

“We haven’t heard anything from people,” said Tom Chiu, assistant manager at Best Asian Market on East Sprague Avenue, on Thursday. “Today’s news might have made it more real for people.”

Still, Chiu said he doesn’t think there will be a big impact to business.

“Spokane is actually pretty good with health care, so I don’t really see a fear with that,” Chiu said.

Thirty countries had confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Thursday afternoon, according to the Centers for Disease Control. More than 75,000 people have been infected worldwide, and more than 2,100 have died.

In the U.S., 479 people in 42 states – not including people who came from quarantine aboard a cruise ship in Japan – had been investigated for infection with the novel coronavirus as of Wednesday, according to the CDC. Fifteen people have tested positive so far, with results for 52 pending.

Business owners in major U.S. cities, some of whom have seen their customer traffic cut by more than half, are anxiously waiting for things to return to normal.

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