On a late afternoon on March 18, an employee at the St Marks Place Gem Bing Shop went outside for some fresh air and saw that the shop’s street board was in ruins. One side of the poster had fallen to the ground and the other side was “clearly the result of kicks and punches,” according to Xiaoyu Gu, founder and owner of the shop.
Gu said that shop security footage showed the vadalization was done by two men who often hung out in the neighborhood. Earlier this month, Gem Bing Shop employees had found the same street sign lying on the ground and suspected that the deed was intentional.
Chinese small business owners face dire circumstances as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to develop in New York City. Since January, Chinatowns in Lower Manhattan, Flushing, and Sunset Park have seen a sharp decline in customers. With restaurant services limited to takeout and deliveries, many ponder temporary or permanent closure.
In a WeChat group shared by Chinese restaurant owners around the East Village, two others told Gu that their employees and businesses had suffered harassment. Hunan Slurp, the Chinese noodle restaurant on the corner of 1st Avenue and E 7th Street, shared that a man tried and failed to rob their employee on the street during a food delivery. Another restaurant that did not want to disclose its name also reported in the group that someone disguised as a delivery man tried to steal from the shop’s basement.
Although people on social media were supportive after she posted about the incident, Gu remains grim about the situation. “After Trump said it’s the ‘Chinese virus,’ some media has attributed the problem to China,” Gu said in Mandarin. She also suspected that the shop’s street sign, which reads “Authentic chinese street food,” may be the cause of the vandalism. With the suddenly charged word “Chinese” there, Gu said, “it feels like we may be actively asking to be beaten up.”
In recent years, the East Village has become such an “epicenter of Chinese and Taiwanese restaurants” that it has been declared Chinatown North.
Due to concerns about possible coronavirus infection and potential racist aggression, Gem Bing Shop has decided to close indefinitely. During the period of closure, Gu, along with several other shop owners in the neighborhood, have decided to hold off on rent payment until further notice.