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Chinatown-International District businesses work to recover from pandemic

In Seattle’s Chinatown-International District, businesses are facing persistent struggles as they work to recover from the pandemic.

SEATTLE — Businesses in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District are facing persistent struggles as they work to recover from the pandemic.

It is something the U.S. Small Business Administration is taking notice of, and at the regional office, they say they want to help.

"The greater neighborhood is called Chinatown-International District, but we are in a section of it called Japantown,” said Binko Chiong-Bisbee.

Chiong-Bisbee has owned Kobo Shop and Gallery at Higo since 2004. 

Not far away, Yen Ma runs her business, Gan Bei.

"Chinatown is usually bustling,” said Ma.

But not long after she took over Gan Bei, the pandemic began and so much changed.

"The last two years have been difficult,” said Chiong-Bisbee.

She said it became so difficult that a gate was installed to protect the building. The storefront is still boarded up. Chiong-Bisbee said she doesn't feel comfortable taking the panels down yet.

"There is still problems with rampant vandalism and crime,” she said.

"The hardest part is all of the petty crime, the robbery,” said Ma. “You don't know if you are going to be the next one to be targeted."

Recently, Seattle police said they brought more resources to one crime hot spot at 12th and Jackson, but it has not fixed all the concerns about crime in the neighborhood. On top of that, the businesses have been battling something else.

"There is stigma toward Asians, that we brought the pandemic to the United States, and it is like we have been here forever. We are Asian Americans. We are raised here. We are born here,” said Ma.

Nationally, between March 2020 and December 2021, there were nearly 11,000 reports of hate incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, according to STOP AAPI HATE.

"We are still seeing the lingering effects of that anti-Asian sentiment, at least from what I have been hearing from businesses,” said Mike Fong, the regional administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration.

During the pandemic, SBA delivered billions in funding to small businesses across the country through loans. Fong said SBA is still here to help.

"We want to make sure that all these new businesses that we have started relationships with have the opportunity to engage us, and think about other programs and tools that we may be able to offer them,” said Fong.

Fong said SBA is committed to equitable recovery, and Chiong-Bisbee said she is committed to helping her neighborhood.

"You can't replace this neighborhood. If it goes, you can't go back to what it was,” she said.

That's why she wants the community to be proactive about protecting it.

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