Coronavirus rumors cause layoffs and closures in Chinatown

Houston's Chinatown is still struggling after coronavirus rumors took a toll on businesses.

Despite debunking these rumors, mom and pop shops owned by local families continue to struggle after the owners say nasty rumors and irrational fears continue to plague the community, causing some to lay off employees. 

Since late January, Cori Xiong, owner of Mala Sichuan Bistro in Chinatown says her restaurant, which is typically packed with customers, has seen a significant decline in business over irrational fears about the coronavirus. 

"The week right after Chinese New Year, we got hit. The whole Chinatown got hit. I think it originated from this very vicious rumor," she said. "From that our business was lowered by at least 35 to 60 percent daily. So for example normally on a Saturday, we’d get about 500 customers, and right now on Saturdays we get less than 200."

Cori and her husband employ roughly 60 wait staff across three locations in Houston. The couple just celebrated the birth of their second child and were slated to open their fourth bistro in Sugar Land next month but were forced to delay.

"If it continues to be like this, I’m afraid we’ll start to have a negative cash flow and then we’ll start to have to lay off people which that is the last thing that we want to do," she says.

Next door at Gangnam style restaurant, business was even worse. The owners had to lay off all employees except one and other restaurants in the area are now opening only on the weekends. 

In fact, according to the Asian Chamber of Commerce, at least two Chinatown businesses have had to shut down entirely in the last month. 

"It’s recovered but right now, on average, the business is still down by about 20 to 30 percent,"  said Kenneth Li, an Asian Chamber of Commerce Board Trustee. "It’s very competitive, so the profit margin is very extreme. That’s why even a loss of a few percentages of the business does affect a lot of employees and the family."

"Right now they need Houstonians to come and save Chinatown so that all these restaurant owners and business owners can make a living," said Robert De Los Santos, Houston entrepreneur Organization.  

Local bars are offering incentives for Houstonians to frequent Chinatown establishments. Axelrad is offering a free can of beer with a receipt from a Chinatown restaurant and employees get a $20 reimbursement with their receipt. 

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