Misguided virus fears hitting Asian American businesses

Full Screen
1 / 10

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

In this Feb. 13, 2020, photo, patrons enter Mekong Plaza in the Asian district, in Mesa, Ariz. Arizona's freshly crowned Asian District was deep into organizing its night market when news broke that a case of the illness known as COVID-19 was confirmed at nearby Arizona State University. Xenophobic comments on social media and phone calls started almost immediately, according to Arizona Asian Chamber of Commerce CEO Vicente Reid. (AP Photo/Matt York)

NEW YORK, N.Y. – In Arizona, a burgeoning Asian American community fields xenophobic calls about a planned night market featuring Asian street foods. In New York, a dim sum restaurant owner worries he won't make rent. In the San Francisco Bay Area, a local Asian American-owned restaurant chain is mulling temporarily shuttering one of its properties because of the downturn in trade.

In major U.S. cities, Asian American businesses are seeing a remarkable decline in customers as fear about the viral outbreak from China spreads. City and health officials are trying to stanch the financial bleeding through information campaigns and personal visits to shops and restaurants, emphasizing that, with just 15 cases diagnosed in the entire country, there is no reason to avoid them.

Business owners, some of whom have seen their customer traffic cut by more than half, are anxiously waiting for things to return to normal.

Mesa, Arizona's freshly crowned Asian District was deep into organizing its night market when news broke that a case of the illness known as COVID-19 was confirmed at nearby Arizona State University.

Xenophobic comments on social media and phone calls started almost immediately, according to Arizona Asian Chamber of Commerce CEO Vicente Reid.

“I probably should stop picking up my phone altogether," Reid said. "One lady was like, ‘Well, aren’t people coming to your event that are the cause of it?'"

The Feb. 29 food festival, modeled after popular outdoor Taiwanese markets, was designed to get the public acquainted with the district.

Mesa Mayor John Giles called the xenophobia directed at the event “ridiculous.”