Asian American and immigrant communities felt the economic impact of COVID-19 weeks before shutdowns began. These businesses were some of the first to be affected by the pandemic, when anti-Chinese rhetoric and fears of the virus spread far before cases started appearing and increasing in major cities. Studies show that Black, Latinx, Asian, and immigrant businesses were affected most, as well as female-owned businesses. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, 26% of small Asian businesses owners went out of business from February to April 2020. Businesses that were affected included restaurants, transportation, and hospitality, among several others.
However, many of these businesses are finding innovative solutions to combat the impact of COVID-19. Some communities, such as Chinatown in Chicago, have looked to community non-profits to help residents with social service programs and applying for unemployment. Many communities have also expanded their outside dining area to attract guests throughout the summer. In addition, business owners have also tried to keep their staff employed, even if they are working at 30% capacity.
However, the social impact of COVID-19 is much more nuanced. Communities that relied heavily on dishes such as Korean BBQ, dim sum, and hot pot were affected by COVID-19 due to the social nature of these cuisines. In Boston, Chinatown restaurants sat empty as the city’s student population declined and customers switched to takeout options. Questions arise of how this will impact areas not only economically, but socially too. Businesses are aware they are not only dealing with a pandemic, but also anti-Chinese rhetoric and racial inequity. Many of these businesses rely on busy areas and community to keep afloat.
Across the world, restaurants grapple with changes to social dining. The atmosphere and dining experience created by restaurants have attracted a wide crowd in the past, but dining areas are now only reserved for a select few. The experience of dining out, meeting strangers, and sharing food will drastically change, at least in the near future.
It will take community leaders, residents, and innovators to create solutions to help BIPOC businesses. Especially in the coming months with the weather changing, the solutions that cities and residents construct will affect the way we eat, share food, and connect to different cultures. Already, people are sharing recipes online and creating specialized takeout services. Hopefully the future of dining, transportation, and hospitality will include ways for business owners and customers to connect in new ways and help the community flourish.