After being hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation and Vancouver Chinatown Business Improvement Area Society will light up the streets next weekend in a grassroots effort to welcome people back to the historic neighborhood.
The first Light Up Chinatown! community party, scheduled for Sept. 11 and 12, features live entertainment, food trucks, candles and decorations.
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More than 50 volunteers spent Saturday washing windows, cleaning sidewalks and collecting garbage in preparation for the lantern festival, which organizers hope will become an annual event.
“For many of the merchants and many of the people who live and work here in Chinatown, it is a symbol that others do not care,” Vancouver Chinatown Foundation volunteer Bill Tam told Global News.
Tam believes that COVID-19 had a disproportionate impact on Chinatowns. In Vancouver, tourists and shoppers disappeared amid a rise in anti-Asian attacks and a rise in street disturbances that saw the area overrun with graffiti, vandalism and rubbish.
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“It’s been tough for Chinatown, the last year or so … during COVID and the rise of anti-Asian racism, so the neighborhood, I think, needed a little loving care,” said Carol Lee, president and co-founder of Vancouver Chinatown Foundation.
Tam said one of the goals is to rejuvenate businesses at the heart of society by “cleaning up, making it safe, doing it so people will come here.”
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After more than 40 years in Chinatown, the owners of Bamboo Village on Pender Street know how to adapt to what customers want.
“Businesses have ups and downs, just like life’s ups and downs,” co-owner Keller Ng told Global News.
“To make us survive, we have to change ourselves.”
The family-owned and operated store, known for its mouse-worthy collectibles, these days looks more like a perennial emporium as the demand for plants and flower pots picked up during the pandemic.
“We’ve seen the changes in Chinatown,” Ng said, “like going from a golden age and then going all the way down.”
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Business hopes Light Up Chinatown! will help attract new visitors.
“Hopefully it will give some spark to bring people back to Chinatown,” Ng said.
New York City’s Light Up Chinatown project saw Mott Street adorned with lights and lanterns last winter, and the community champion behind it is thrilled to hear that Vancouver is trying it, too.
“It can transcend to other cities,” Patrick Mock said. “That was what I had in mind when I started this project.”
Mock, who manages 46 Mott Street Bakery in New York, got the idea for Light Up Chinatown at the height of COVID-19 when the streets were empty and his store was one of only five open within a four-block radius .
He said the lanterns brought different generations of the neighborhood together to let customers know that Chinatown is open for business.
The project was led by donations, and Mock said all proceeds go to the installation of permanent light fixtures and traditional lanterns in Lower Manhattan’s Chinatown.
“It also became a symbol of hope for the neighborhood,” Mock told Global News.
“Finding the light at the end of this tunnel in hard times.”
The lantern will be hung in Vancouver Chinatown on Friday, September 10th ahead of the first Light Up Chinatown ever! event.
“It’s always good to have hope,” Ng said.
“I always hope tomorrow would be better.”
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