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Montreal’s Chinatown Seeking $1 Million in Relief to Overcome Disproportionate COVID-19 Downturn

A drop in tourism and ongoing anti-Asian sentiment are making it difficult for restaurants in the area to survive

Montreal's Chinatown gate
Montreal’s Chinatown gate

Community leaders representing businesses in Montreal’s Chinatown are requesting $1 million in financial aid from federal and provincial governments to weather the devastation brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

Representatives from the Chinese Association of Montreal, Montreal Chinatown Development Council and Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations gathered on Tuesday, September 22, for a press conference to discuss the measures needed to support struggling businesses in the area.

Chinatown’s central location between Old Montreal and the Quartier des Spectacles previously meant that it was a popular location for business lunches, as well as a stop on most tourist itineraries. However, foot traffic across the entire downtown area has declined more than 90 percent since the start of the pandemic, CTV reports.

The Montreal Chinatown Development Council and the Chinese Association of Montreal called on Ottawa and Quebec to help...

Posted by Center for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR) on Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Anti-Asian racism spurred by misinformation linking Chinese communities to the spread of the coronavirus is also to blame, the community leaders say. In March, the lion statues that stand at the entrances to Chinatown were vandalized, along with statues at two of the city’s Buddhist temples, in what Montreal police suspect are hate crimes.

“Our community has been disproportionately affected by the pandemic on all fronts. Our people are scared,” said Sherry Ao, president of the Montreal Chinatown Development Council.

In addition to the relief fund, the leaders are seeking a one-year commercial tax reduction and help to establish Montreal’s Chinatown as a commercial development corporation (SDC). Montreal currently counts 23 SDCs dedicated to the economic development of the areas they represent — Chinatown isn’t covered by any.

Throughout the pandemic, Montreal’s SDCs have helped implement cleanliness and mobility measures, pedestrian-only streets, and online delivery platforms with the aim of supporting local merchants.

Bryant Chang of the Chinese Association of Montreal said he expects half of Chinatown’s restaurants and businesses (many of which are family-run) to shutter if the government doesn’t step in. Chinatown is home to 160 businesses that employ approximately 400 people, CityNews reports.

“We cut more than half of our staff, and we also lost somewhere from 70 to 80 percent of our sales,” Paul Li, owner of Hong Kong-style bakery Patisserie Coco, told CTV News.

While most restaurants in the area seem to be holding on, buoyed by new takeout and delivery operations, the pandemic has brought on the closure of the area’s only fine dining establishment, Orange Rouge. “The situation has not allowed us to pursue our passion,” the restaurant said in an Instagram post announcing the news.

“The lack of recognition of Chinatown’s economic and cultural importance for downtown needs to change, and we need to be at these planning and decision-making tables,” said Bill Wong of the Montreal Chinatown Development Council.

In response to CTV’s request for comment, the city said it’s in discussions with the Chinese business community and is “doing everything it can to help.”