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  • Writer's pictureKathy Chin Leong

Jaynry Mak

Co-owner & Partner of Dim Sum Corner | Board of Directors Chairperson at Community Youth Center

How has the virus changed Chinatown?

It looks like a ghost town. Not one store is open on Grant Avenue. But the street lights and lanterns still come on at night. We see more homeless on the streets. It is so quiet. There has always been a lot of hustle and bustle. A few produce markets are still open.

And what about your restaurant?

Before Chinese New Year, once news the broke in Wuhan, people thought it was only a Chinese virus. We still had Chinese tourists but fewer non-Chinese tourists. Business took a hit. And traditionally the busiest day is the day of the Chinese New Year parade. We did not do as well as the year before. Not as many people came out for the parade. The ones that came just left immediately.

At the beginning, we kept our staff and cut hours. And not until shelter in place happened, we laid some people off. By April, sales went down 98 percent. We tried to offer takeout options, but we could not generate enough business from that. Delivery companies were charging 25 percent commission. We would wind up losing money.

We saw the dip in sales. We decided to close for now and give the supplies and materials to our staff. We did not board up windows and hoping we will not have to do so. We were the last store open for four blocks. We have security alarms and lights on outside. We take turns checking on the property. We applied for small business loans. We hope to stay afloat. We believe in our concept and in Chinatown.

How has this pandemic impacted those you serve?

Our regular customers came in and ordered whenever they could. Our Facebook page got more hits. It is a hard time. There was a movement for restaurants to do e-gift certificates, but no one wanted to buy anything they had to use later; people need money to use for groceries.

How has this affected you personally?

We had a great first year for the restaurant and wanted to implement new concepts. And now all is put on hold. We are constantly discussing what we can do when we reopen. We have a second restaurant, Cathay House, upstairs. We were near the final phases of remodeling, and everything completely stopped. All the equipment came in, and we were at the tail end of it. Things are not going back to normal.

What will it take for Chinatown to recover?

We will try to make it through the storm. I think the economy in Chinatown will take longer than any other part of the city. It relies so much on tourism. Right now, the focus is on the Chinatown community where there are so many SROs and mostly seniors. Everyone is making sure the seniors have meals and groceries. There are a lot of wellness checks on people; they are forced to stay inside. Health is a huge concern for us; and we can make back the money, but health you cannot. And if you get sick, money not getting anybody out of anything.

We want to open back up, but not at the expense of someone getting sick. Chinatown will require a PR plan. Chinatown will have to have a seat at the table with San Francisco Travel and have a promotion to have tourists come back and tell people it is safe.

At Community Youth Center, you serve many at-risk youth and low-income families with social programs and activities. How are they doing?

There are a lot of changes: the families crammed in SROs have anxiety issues; not a lot of people have Wi-Fi, so there’s limited community resources; it is a challenge.

Families are really stressed and figuring out how to support their young children. At this time of year, we would normally have youth leadership retreats. We usually take kids out on college tours. In the summer we have a youth summit. We do these kinds of services virtually now. We will do virtual college tours.

We are doing wellness checks with our youth, but it is harder for counselors to pick up anxiety cues because they are not with them in person. We run a lot of programs at schools, and now the virus makes it hard to plan for the future. No one was really prepared for this, and so we are learning how to rely on technology and support the community.

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