On Oct. 29, as Hurricane Sandy approached the Northeast, restaurants near Manhattan’s Chinatown and Little Italy were nearly empty. The streets were unusually quiet. Only a few supermarkets, fish markets, gift shops, restaurants and bakeries were open. Many of the people on the streets were local residents or foreign tourists, mostly from Europe, who were staying in nearby hotels. Most employees who were working there were Chinatown residents. A few carpooled, took Chinatown vans or got rides from their boss.
The busiest area in Chinatown has Canal Street at the center, with Broadway on the west, Bowery on the east, Hester to the north and Bayard to the south. On Monday, the area’s banks, jewelry shops, convenience stores, smaller supermarkets, pharmacies, gifts shops, and restaurants were mostly closed. Most of the few businesses that were open said that they wanted to close early, depending on the weather and customer traffic.
Mr. Chang, who is the manager of a supermarket on Mott Street in Chinatown, said that Monday, most employees could not come to work due to the suspension of subway and bus services. Living in Queens, he gave a ride to a few employees who lived near him. According to Chang, the customers who have come to his supermarket in the past days have been local residents and students from New York University and Columbia University. They raced to buy instant noodles and other non-perishables.
On Mott Street, two Chinese fish markets were open for businesses. The owners said that they lived nearby so were able to open but plan to close shop around 1 p.m.
Many of the restaurants in Chinatown were closed, with only a few open for business, including Old Szechuan, Old Shanghai, Mei Li Wah, Shanghai 456, and Oriental Garden. Mrs. Chu, who owns Old Shanghai, said that her restaurant was unusually busy on the 29th, mainly because of European tourists who were staying nearby and had nowhere to go for meals. Some tourists and business people from Shanghai also ate at the restaurant because the ones close to their hotels were closed. They came to Chinatown for food, feeling pity for their situation.
Mrs. Chu also said that because of worrying of flooding in her restaurant, she, her husband and several employees stayed in the restaurant Sunday night instead of going home. On Monday night, she did not go home either, worrying that the powerful winds would shatter the restaurant’s glass door, since they did not have a steel pull-down door. Too worried to go home, Mrs. Chu said, “Some employees and I played mah jong to relax and watch the restaurant at the same time.”
She thought that the government was “over-hyping” the hurricane.
“In Shanghai, similar incidents typically happen more than 10 times a year,” she said. “They were never as worried.”
Mr. Choi, who is the manager of Oriental Garden, indicated that aside from those who lived nearby, many either carpooled or took Chinatown vans to come to work Monday. He said that last year, Hurricane Irene also hit during the night but things returned to normal the next day, with the restaurant back in business in order to continue serving nearby residents and tourists. It was not until 4 p.m. Monday, when the wind and rain started picking up, that most stores decided to close early. The lone patrol car and its flashing light were all the more visible in the nearly deserted street.
The 5th Precinct increased its shift to 12 hours. In addition to patrolling, the police was also making sure the debris would not cause any injury and reminding people to stay inside in order to avoid injury.
By Fong Meng World Journal
Translated by Connie Yik Kong