Last February, Chinatowns across Canada saw a decrease in business due to fears of COVID-19. The Toronto Chinatown Business Improvement Area (BIA) is a not-for-profit agency that works closely with residents, community groups, other BIAs and the government in Toronto’s Chinatown community. The BIA aims to improve Chinatown and support its businesses. For example they may give businesses easier access to services such as landscaping and pest control.
Tonny Louie is the Chair of Toronto Chinatown BIA’s Board members and Lucia Huang is a Project and Event Manager at Toronto Chinatown BIA. They speak with CJRU about how Chinatown’s small businesses and the BIA have been operating the past year.
“We’re also trying our best to help our business throughout the pandemic so we can reduce the harm as much as possible so we can recover fast together…” Huang shares.
According to Huang, less than 50% of Chinatown’s businesses are deemed as an essential service. Many businesses in the Chinatown community have adjusted their business models. One third of Chinatown’s businesses are restaurants. They are relying on take out services with many working with delivery companies for the first time. Some retail stores are struggling without an online store.
“We have been seeing some businesses start their online presence …so they have a little bit more income compared to zero,” says Huang.
Chinatown BIA has been assisting in grant applications for their business such as digital transformation grants.
“We have around I would say, 20-25 successful applicants, on paper we have around 500 businesses, but not all of them are operating,” Huang shares.
However, grant applications are not always accessible to business owners in Chinatown. Many application portals are in English. Chinatown BIA hired Digital Marketing Coordinators to help business owners understand the grant.
“… After hiring these two summer students to help our businesses in their language we got more attention, more responses from the businesses,” Huang says.
Huang shares that many businesses may return to their old business model.
“A lot of our businesses are serving the elderly…for them face to face, basic service is still required,” Huang explains.
Louie says there will still be a demand for in person shopping, as people enjoy comparison shopping and social interaction.
“People still need restaurants to interact, mingle, enjoy the good conversation…,” Louie shares.
The past year has been a harsh reality check for many businesses.
“You really have to look at your life and say, should I continue to do this until I kick the bucket? Or should I just take it easy and enjoy my life? That actually puts a lot of thinking in people’s mind,” Louie reflects.
Huang leaves advice for those who want to support local businesses.
“Understand your community and support them when you can. Just buying a meal or shop local when you need something, try to see if you can get that in your community instead of buying from Amazon or other large supermarkets,” says Huang.
To hear more about about Toronto Chinatown BIA, listen to the interview below. This is the second story is a four-part series on the effects of global pandemic on the Asian community in Canada: