Coronavirus scare affecting Oakland Chinatown merchants

Asian Americans in the Bay Area say people have been looking at them differently lately. Some say fewer people are patronizing their businesses and they think it’s all because of the coronavirus.

Oakland Chinatown is normally a busy place in the late afternoon when people are shopping after work or school. But these days, the streets are pretty quiet. 

Chinese merchants and workers say the coronavirus scare is affecting their livelihood and how they're being treated.  

Shooting Star Cafe in Oakland Chinatown is a popular spot for young people

"It's a little hangout spot for them. They come in big groups," said Sunny Wong, co-owner of the restaurant. 

Patrons often wait in line for a table, but not since coronavirus became a concern. 

"Steadily declining for about a month, maybe three weeks. But right now, it's probably the worse," said Wong. 

He and his family run four restaurants. Wong said business is down 50 to 70%. 

20 part-time workers have been laid off. 

He's now considering temporarily closing one restaurant. 

"People are not going out," said Carl Chan, president of Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce. 

For example, Pacific Renaissance Plaza, a gathering place for families and older people is now virtually empty. 

Chan said the coronavirus scare has impacted not only Chinese-owned, but various Asian-owned businesses as well. 

"The general public, because all they hear would be some rumors," said Chan. 
To dispel rumors and help restore public confidence in Asian businesses. The Chamber of Commerce president is  planning a workshop to educate merchants. 

"To give special training not only to give understanding to the basic health aspects, but more advanced knowledge on how to deal with epidemics like this," said Chan.  

Community leaders said  fear of the coronavirus appears to be fueling racism against Asian Americans and it's normalizing xenophobia--prejudice against people from other countries. 

"There is a lot of growing fear and prejudice that's coming out of it," said Helen Zia, a community activist and author, "there's a new kind of profiling now.  I would call it coughing while Asian."  

For Wong, the restaurant owner, he said recently, he's noticed non-Asians looking at him differently.

"You're an inconvenience to society,  like I shouldn't be out. I shouldn't be visible to the public." 
Next week, the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce plans to hold a workshop to educate merchants about the coronavirus, as part of its efforts to encourage people to patronize Asian-owned businesses.

Community leaders are urging the public to listen to the science and experts, and not rumors.