SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) - Hundreds of small restaurants in San Francisco's Chinatown have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic as locals have avoided going to them and tourists are all but gone. But now, a bold project of relief is truly taking it to the streets.
Without throngs of patrons, Chinatown's restaurants are not even a shadow of what one would expect.
Harlan Wong of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce said, "Restaurants are the heartbeat of Chinatown."
Chinatown has more than 200 places to eat with some places open for business for more than a century, but more than a third may close forever within the next six months.
"Adding xenophobia to the pandemic, we saw the worst decline in business Chinatown has ever seen," said Rosa Chen of the Chinatown Community Development Center.
On Tuesday afternoon, the city's Chinese Chamber of Commerce and the Chinatown Community Development Center officially launched the Chinatown Outdoor Dining Support Project.
"Many report a revenue loss of 70 percent and the possibility of closing permanently," said Wong.
Utilizing the city's already operating Shared Spaces Program, the Chinatown Outdoor Dining Support Project is inviting restauranteurs to apply for financial grants and technical assistance, from barricades and equipment to important amenities; all of it to institute outdoor dining in so-called "parklets," such as Portsmouth Square.
"We hope that before we get the vaccine, we'll be able to, at least, mitigate some of that impact that pandemic has brought," said Calvin Yan and advisor to San Francisco Supervisor Peskin.
It is an awful experience in the 100 years the Far East Cafe has been in operation.
"That's the first time we closed. We open seven days a week. A lot of people, they come to our restaurant; three or four generations," said the restaurant's owner Bill Lee.
Steven Lee, a partner in the century-old and financially sound Sam Wo Restaurant, said, "We want to help the mom and pops you know, get out and use the program to get out and also do well.
Chen said many of Chinatown's small restaurants don't know how long they can survive.
"They're just going month by month, and hoping that they can survive past this whole pandemic," she said.
There is a danger: density. Just in its one-eighth of a square mile, Chinatown is second in population density, only to New York City's Manhattan. That kind of density lends itself to the virus spread unless customers mask-up, practice social distancing, and try to save a world-famous tourist destination.