Chinatown sees reason for optimism despite 12 months of struggles

BOSTON — On February 15, 2020, city councilors Michelle Wu and Ed Flynn stood in the China Pearl dining room to support the hard-hit restaurant industry. It was just as COVID-19 news was starting to become well known and restaurants were experiencing a major dip in sales.

Today, China Pearl is being renovated and is open for limited seating just three days a week as well as for takeout orders.

“It went from 100%, then it went down to 50%, and the next day it was single-digit percentages,” said Brian Moy, owner of China Pearl and four other restaurants.

Traditional families from Asian countries were the first group to stop coming. Moy said they were scared based on what they were hearing first-hand from relatives in China and other Asian countries. Others followed, said Moy.

Moy spoke with Boston 25 News at his Quincy restaurant, which is also called China Pearl and is closed on Tuesdays. He has cut more than 50 employees at each location as a result of the drop in revenue. China Pearl received federal Paycheck Protection Program funds, which lasted a few months, but continue to have daily struggles with operating costs, Moy said.

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“Most everybody is at least down 30-70% year-over-year,” said Bob Luz, president of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association.

The problem is industrywide, but Chinatown is a compact area with eateries every few hundred feet or less; the financial pain is more concentrated in the neighborhood.

Chinatown’s primary customers of office workers, traditional families and international students have yet to return even with the easing of COVID-19 restrictions on capacity limits and hours of operation.

Business may be bleak, but Moy is optimistic.

“I’ve been really fortunate to look around Chinatown on a daily basis. Very few, maybe one or two, businesses have closed. We’re really fighting hard for the support and continuing our business,” Moy added.

He’s asking customers to keep supporting local eateries and let lawmakers know that restaurant relief is needed. The calendar may be helpful as well, said Luz.

“For the first time I think there’s hope that we can see the other side, the other side that starts April 1st when restaurants can open outside,” Luz said.

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