Chinatown merchants blame fears over coronavirus for drastic decline in business

Published: Feb. 11, 2020 at 10:40 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Businesses in Honolulu’s Chinatown are reporting a drastic drop in sales ― as Chinatowns across the U.S. have turned into virtual ghost towns because of irrational fears of infection.

Shop owners say growing concerns over COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus, are keeping customers away ― and it’s been like that several weeks.

While not all stores are being impacted, many restaurants, vegetable stands and mom-and-pop shops are seeing substantially fewer customers.

On Tuesday morning, usually bustling sidewalks had noticeably less foot traffic.

“Right now there’s nothing. After 12 o’clock nothing. You don’t see anything,” said Lita Casinas, owner of Lita’s Marinated Fish and Meat.

Sluggish sales prompted Casinas to close more than two hours early.

After 35 years in business, she can’t remember it ever being this slow. She says even the SARS outbreak didn’t affect her businesses this much.

“All my customers. Everyday. They’re scared to come," she said.

While no one’s been able to pinpoint a definitive cause for the decline locally, the president of the Chinatown Business and Community Association believes news reports from overseas and social media are impacting people’s actions.

“There is a mistrust about China. The news. Whether they’re hiding things. Not telling people. So that adds to the level of anxiety,” said Chu Lan Shubert-Kwok.

Those who are out seem to be taking extra precautions.

Shubert-Kwok said, “I notice a lot more people wearing masks.”

Hawaii health officials stress that there have been no cases of the coronavirus in Hawaii, and that the seasonal flu remains a much larger risk.

At You Market in Chinatown, the owner blames fears about the coronavirus for his sales plummeting 20%. “Everyone should beware of it. But it’s safe in Hawaii,” said Paul Min.

Shubert-Kwok added, “I think prevention is important. And accurate information from the CDC and the Department of Health. Perhaps even in multiple languages.”

In the meantime, shop owners like Casinas are hoping customers will soon return. If not, they might not outlast the outbreak.

“Right now, I struggle to pay my rent because I don’t have any people to come and shop," said Casinas.

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