Report From Chinatown
Friday at 4pm Chinatown was a mess. A long line waiting for distribution of disaster relief ran down the east side of Bowery from the Manhattan Bridge, took an abrupt turn at the statue of Confucius, and continued two blocks further up Division Street. Thousands stood patiently on line for hours for MRE-style emergency meals, usually eaten in combat situations. Other than that, New York's oldest Chinatown was a ghost town. Nearly all restaurants, markets, dumpling houses, ginseng shops, curio stores, greengrocers, beauty parlors, and bubble tea parlors were shuttered, and only a few pedestrians scurried through the streets under still-threatening skies. The outlook was bleak, and power would not be restored till the next day.
Friday, Doyers Alley was nearly deserted. Nam Wah Tea Parlor on the left
What a change was to be seen on Sunday, after the electricity had returned. At that point, 95 percent of the businesses had reopened, and there was lots of activity going on, though the fact that few tourists had returned meant that most restaurants yawned emptily.
The produce stands and fishmongers of Grand Street had once again raised their awnings, as had the cafés and bakeries of Mott Street below and above Canal. Less activity was to be seen along Fujianese East Broadway, and especially farther east along Henry, Monroe, and Madison streets, which where directly affected by the hurricane's surge. Most of Chinatown had been above above the flood line -- though torn awnings and storm detritus were to be seen here and there.
Hong Kong cakes, $1
Still, a half-full Chinatown is a sad Chinatown. Wages there are low, and often directly dependent on the volume of customers. Real estate costs are among the highest in the city. Many of the usual visitors who go to Chinatown for food, shopping, or just the general experience have problems of their own and might not be returning soon. Tourism has slowed to a trickle in the storm's wake.
The good news is that the neighborhood is up and running and unbowed. The sellers of $1 Hong Kong cakes are lining up on Canal Street with $2 noodle carts. Duck shops, dim sum parlors, and dollar dumpling stalls are all ready and waiting. Please make a point of visiting soon.
Next: More photos