Welcome to Chinatown

Welcome to Chinatown

Welcome to Chinatown (WtC) was a response to Covid-19, its disparate effects on Manhattan Chinatown, and increased xenophobia. Vic and Jen realized Chinatown’s challenges were a result of systemic disinvestment. Their instincts were right based on data (I.E: 50% of Asian restaurants were expected to close due to COVID-19, vs.

Welcome to Chinatown

Founded in 2020 by longtime Chinatown residents, Victoria Lee and Jennifer Tam, Welcome to Chinatown is a nonprofit amplifying and addressing the critical needs of our community and its entrepreneurs. Welcome to Chinatown (WtC) was a response to Covid-19, its disparate effects on Manhattan Chinatown, and increased xenophobia. Vic and Jen realized Chinatown’s challenges were a result of systemic disinvestment. Their instincts were right based on data (I.E: 50% of Asian restaurants were expected to close due to COVID-19, vs. 30% of restaurants across the US). By identifying systemic challenges facing the historical enclave, WtC shifted its efforts from recovery to sustainability with a focus on diverse & multigenerational partnerships to build a new wave of invested advocates. All coming together for a shared mission: together, we will keep Chinatown open for generations to come. We operate with three core values: We are Partners, not Saviors – The best solutions are ideated with community. We build relationships and apply our diverse skills alongside already resilient, adaptive establishments that are inherent to immigrant communities. We listen before we deliver – Our work is rooted in listening, empathy, and trust. We don’t pretend to have all the solutions, and know results come from understanding our communities’ experiences. We honor the culture and community of Chinatown – We embrace the legacy of those who built Chinatown to what it is today: a symbolic neighborhood rich with history, built on the backbone of immigrants and a story that is carried on by multiple generations.

About the Organization:

Founded in 2020 by longtime Chinatown residents, Victoria Lee and Jennifer Tam, Welcome to Chinatown is a nonprofit amplifying and addressing the critical needs of our community and its entrepreneurs. Welcome to Chinatown (WtC) was a response to Covid-19, its disparate effects on Manhattan Chinatown, and increased xenophobia. Vic and Jen realized Chinatown’s challenges were a result of systemic disinvestment. Their instincts were right based on data (I.E: 50% of Asian restaurants were expected to close due to COVID-19, vs. 30% of restaurants across the US). By identifying systemic challenges facing the historical enclave, WtC shifted its efforts from recovery to sustainability with a focus on diverse & multigenerational partnerships to build a new wave of invested advocates. All coming together for a shared mission: together, we will keep Chinatown open for generations to come. We operate with three core values: We are Partners, not Saviors – The best solutions are ideated with community. We build relationships and apply our diverse skills alongside already resilient, adaptive establishments that are inherent to immigrant communities. We listen before we deliver – Our work is rooted in listening, empathy, and trust. We don’t pretend to have all the solutions, and know results come from understanding our communities’ experiences. We honor the culture and community of Chinatown – We embrace the legacy of those who built Chinatown to what it is today: a symbolic neighborhood rich with history, built on the backbone of immigrants and a story that is carried on by multiple generations.

organizational budget

$1 MILLION - $2 MILLION

existence for

0-5 Years

Organization benefits AAPIs residing in the following state(s):

California

organizational budget

$1 MILLION - $2 MILLION

existence for

0-5 Years

Organization benefits AAPIs residing in the following state(s):

California

The Issue:

Chinatown is a small business beacon (94% of businesses have under 20 employees and small businesses represent 98% of Chinatown’s economy). Owning and operating a small business is challenging, and for business owners, it can feel daunting to shoulder everything needed for a business to thrive, especially considering the historic under funding of Manhattan’s Chinatown. WtC conducted an Impact Study in 2022 and found startling systemic disinvestment including (1) Chinatown lost $500M in revenue in the year following 9/11 but only received $60M in aid (2) Chinatown has been excluded from funding federal, state, and city funding opportunities because it is a gentrifying neighborhood and shares a zip code with Tribecca, one of the wealthiest zip codes in NYC (3) Chinatown will be home to an $2 billion megajail in lieu of much needed social services given that 50% of Chinatown & Lower East Side residents earn <$50K vs 35% in the US (4) A quarter of residents live in poverty which is 1.5x the rate in NYC & nearly double the rate in the US. Often, Chinatown small businesses are categorizes as “cheap eats”, but the stereotype fails to address the reason which is our communities businesses have been created and priced to meet the needs of our residents. For every business that we lose as a result of gentrification, it poses significant risks to the community's physical spaces and cultural identity. It is crucial to prioritize the preservation of these spaces, which act as a lifeline for the community, against these threats. Efforts must shift from mere recovery to systemic change, empowering both entrepreneurs, community members alike, to ensure lChinatown thrives and flourishes. That’s why in 2022, WtC sought to contextualize historic challenges disproportionately impacting the neighborhood to develop solutions for: Rising costs and thinning margins Declining aging consumer base Loss of Chinatown businesses and succession challenges Barriers to technology adoption Chinatown deserves more than just recovery efforts and a chance at survival – it deserves the opportunity to thrive, sustain, & build upon its cultural legacy.

The Solution:

Good ideas deserve a chance. That’s why WtC aims to build the Small Business Innovation Hub: a space for entrepreneurs to gather, learn, and grow alongside each other. Our Hub will fulfill a unique role in the small business ecosystem in Chinatown. When completed, the Hub will accelerate existing businesses and incubate new ones, while also serving as a community center & event space to network and receive resources and information that have been historically absent.
Community spaces, especially ones that dually act as an innovation hub, are a magnet for redevelopment, business, job creation, networking, and economic diversity. They also help reduce disparities in access to services, training, and investment which facilitates economic growth and sustainability (Colistra 2017). If Chinatown residents and entrepreneurs can feel socioeconomically empowered, we can overcome the barriers to community autonomy and revitalize Chinatown while honoring its culture and legacy. The Hub will not only be home to our initiatives, which have been instrumental in supporting Chinatown's multigenerational entrepreneurs and the broader Chinatown community, but will pave the way for the expansion of our work that includes expanding out network of placed based AAPI small business owners to include nationwide AAPI brands and corporations through programming built and designed for small businesses after extensive surveying across 200+ businesses and community organizations:
New Incubation: for budding AAPI entrepreneurs with access to capital, affordable commercial space Acceleration: for place based Chinatown small business owners to grow Technical Training: on-site, pro-bono or low-cost centralized technical training Matchmaking: connect entrepreneurs and potential investors Advocacy and Education: increase awareness on critical issues Community Events: accessible programming for our wider community Intergenerational learning: provide a space where emerging and legacy entrepreneurs As WtC ideates, develops, tests solutions, WtC will grow through an open source model to allow other community organizations to tackle same, but different problems. It’s not unique for fellow AAPI communities to be disadvantaged because of socioeconomic (exacerbated by the model minority myth), language, and technology barriers. However, success lies in on the ground residents, like Jen and Vic, to build trust and approach broader solutions with nuance.

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