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Businesses In New York's Chinatown Hurt by Attack Aftermath - 2001-10-18

New York City's Chinatown is just a few minutes walk from the rubble of the World Trade Center. While Chinatown's businesses were not physically damaged in the September 11 attacks, the event has nevertheless devastated commerce in the area.

The chefs at a Chinatown Shanghai-style eatery tend their sizzling-hot woks. They are cooking what some people say are "the best fried dumplings in the city." Outside the crowded kitchen, other workers prepare the ingredients, peeling a large bowl of fresh shrimp.

But since September 11, the Bo dumpling restaurant has had fewer customers than ever before come in to sample its signature dish.

The restaurant had to close in the week after the attack, but even after re-opening, business has been far from normal. The restaurant's owner and head chef, Fu Sheng Chen, says he has been so anxious about the situation, he has had trouble sleeping at night.

"The business is about 30 percent less than before September 11," he said. As far as his personal state of health, it's also picking up. He is able to sleep now, but he is still kind of nervous because 30 percent is still a lot.

Chef Chen is comparatively lucky. Many of his customers come from the surrounding, largely-Chinese, neighborhood. Community leaders say most restaurants in the area have lost more than half of their business because, unlike the Bo Dumpling restaurant, they rely on tourists.

Normally a bustling neighborhood, with crowded sidewalks and streets jammed with traffic, Chinatown is almost unrecognizable now because it is so quiet.

While the main thoroughfare was recently reopened, police roadblocks elsewhere and restrictions on nearby bridges and tunnels deter shoppers. So does the smell of burning chemicals from "ground zero," as the area of the ruined World Trade Center has come to be known.

Harold Ha owns a multi-million dollar jewelry business in Chinatown. He says, with scarcely a tourist to be found and with local residents in no mood to shop, he has lost 60 percent of his revenue. "Christmas is coming, so we will see. But right now, actually, we have already laid off a couple of our sales people," he said. "And then, the rest of them are taking less hours. I hope they can survive."

Sue Lee is the director of the Chinatown Manpower Project. She says businesses throughout Chinatown are cutting staff, many of whom are unskilled workers with nothing to fall back on.

There are more than 200 garment manufacturers in Chinatown and Ms. Lee says the industry is reeling. Delivery trucks are its lifeline, but they can barely make it to the area because of the road closures.

Ms. Lee says the business has lost millions of dollars. "The garment industry relies on quick turn-around, getting the garment produced, ship it out," she said. "The material has to be delivered right away. So once you have one week, even a couple of days delay, that could mean a loss of that whole batch of work."

The garment and the restaurant industries are the backbone of Chinatown's economy. City and federal services are providing assistance to businesses that have suffered, but Ms. Lee says the area needs a comprehensive business recovery plan.

"I think they're looking for more of a long-term strategy, and not just this immediate short term relief. Although that's helpful, as of now they're basically loans, they're not grants," she said. "There's no technical assistance in a recovery plan, a business recovery plan. You know, helping them, how to better market their business. How are they going to recover?"

While City officials are trying to encourage tourists to return to New York, local leaders in Chinatown are launching their own campaign. They start with a big advantage, the neighborhood has always been one of the most popular destinations in the city.