Mayor dines in Flushing to encourage New Yorkers to visit the neighborhood amid coronavirus scare

Photo: Carlotta Mohamed/QNS

Flushing is open for business. 

With zero confirmed cases of coronavirus – or COVID19, as it is now known as – in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio dined with community leaders on Thursday in Flushing to encourage New Yorkers to visit Asian-American owned small businesses in their neighborhood. 

“In hard times, New Yorkers know to stand by their neighbors,” de Blasio said. “We’re in Flushing today to embrace Asian-American owned small businesses and say to all New Yorkers: New York City’s Chinatowns are open for business!”

Mayor Bill de Blasio attempts to eat with chopsticks. (Photo: Carlotta Mohamed/QNS)
(Photo by Dean Moses)

It was a celebration for guests that included New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Tom Grech, president and CEO of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, administration officials and the Flushing Chinese Business Association, who met at the Royal Queen restaurant inside the New World Mall, located at 136-20 Roosevelt Ave. 

Unsubstantiated fear around the Coronavirus has hurt commerce in the neighborhood, so we’re asking that everyone show their love on Valentine’s Day and dine out at one of Flushing’s great restaurants tomorrow,” Grech said. 

Queens Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Grech (r.) with Commissioner of the NYC Department of Small Business Services Gregg Bishop. (Photo by Dean Moses)

Following the coronavirus outbreak, many businesses and restaurants in Chinatown, Flushing and Sunset Park suffered. Despite there being no known cases in the city, restaurants and shops in Flushing experienced a 40 percent decline in business, according to Peter Tu, of the Flushing Chinese Business Association. 

Flushing Chinese Business Association Executive Director Peter Tu speaks about the impact of the coronavirus scare in Flushing. (Photo: Carlotta Mohamed/QNS)

For Connie Zhang, president and CEO of Royal Queen, business had dropped tremendously — around 70 to 80 percent, she said. 

“I received the first cancellation on Chinese New Year’s Eve, which is supposed to be the busiest night because that is the tradition where everyone comes out having their family dinner,” Zhang said. “It was the slowest Chinese New Year’s Day in five years, and we received more than 1,000 tables of cancellation in February.”

Zhang said she hopes customers return to the Royal Queen and other businesses in Flushing. 

Meanwhile, Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot said the risk for COVID19 in New York City remains low, but preparedness as a city remains high. 

“While it is understandable for some New Yorkers to be concerned about the novel coronavirus situation, we cannot stand for racist and stigmatizing rhetoric, or for myths and half-truths about the virus. The best precaution you can take is to practice what you would during any flu season: Wash your hands, cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, and please stay home if you’re feeling unwell. The Health Department is committed to separating the facts from fear, and we encourage all New Yorkers to do the same.” 

Wayne Ho, president and CEO of the Chinese American Planning Council (CPC), said they’re grateful that the city is standing up for the Chinese American community. 

“New Yorkers must recognize that the coronavirus is a public health issue, not a racial, ethnic, or immigrant issue,” Ho said. “Since the news of coronavirus has escalated, Chinese Americans have been hit hard by the dangerous ‘perpetual foreigner’ myth that already hurts our community. We have heard stories of Chinese restaurants having dinners canceled, Chinese stores being empty, Asian American community members having strangers isolate them in public spaces, and families fearful of bringing children to daycare in Asian American neighborhoods. We have a responsibility to make sure that we are reducing any bias that our community members experience.”

Dr. Henry Chen, president of SOMOS, said although risks of infection in New York remains low, he is gravely concerned by the increased xenophobia against the Asian American population, specifically the Chinese community. 

“When people play off stereotypes, it distracts from the real risks and can lead to misperception and misinformation about the source of the virus. We are grateful to stand with the mayor, city elected officials and community leaders to ensure we eliminate any stigma with the virus, continue public outreach efforts, and educate the public of the real risks,” Chen said. 

Local elected officials, such as Congresswoman Grace Meng and City Councilman Peter Koo, are asking all New Yorkers to show their love for Flushing and dine out on Valentine’s Day. 

“The area has so much to offer from fantastic restaurants and shops to exceptional markets and entertainment. Tourists and many from outside the area often come to Flushing to experience this outstanding food, culture and fun, and we want that to continue,” Meng said. 

Koo added, “New York has zero cases of COVID19, and as long as we all continue to use proper precautions recommended by healthcare professionals, there is no reason to fear the delicious food in Flushing. Just remember some of it may be a little spicy!”

City Councilman Peter Koo (Photo: Carlotta Mohamed/QNS)