Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

How to Save Chinatown: Preserving affordability and community service through ethnic retail


Chinatowns in North America have been especially hit hard by COVID-19, a reality of anti-Asian racist and xenophobic sentiment exacerbated by the global pandemic. The factors contributing to increased business closures, commercial vacancy, and gentrification in Chinatowns have existed before the pandemic and have only been exacerbated. In order to preserve Chinatowns, municipalities have enacted historic preservation and small business support measures, such as historic designations, technical assistance for businesses, increased permit scrutiny, and legacy business programs. This study investigates the difference in retail changes across three Chinatowns in Vancouver, San Francisco and Los Angeles both prior and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Concurrently, this study also examines the impact of retaining a legacy business program and other preservation measures on the retail landscape. Interviews with city officials, organizers, community institutions, and members of the business community were conducted along with an analysis of existing local programs, policies and reports. This study finds that measures taken through historic preservation, small business support, and pandemic relief have not significantly addressed core needs within Chinatown communities. The most effective forms of relief and preservation was affordable housing, community-ownership of commercial businesses, and direct assistance for commercial rent. This study also acknowledges that some Chinatowns are faring better than others due to the ability of the Chinese community to fight against to historic discriminatory planning practices such as urban renewal, slum clearance, and highway building. The impact of these histories is deeply intertwined with the survivability of ethnic retail within each distinct Chinatown, and depending on the strength of existing community ties that remain will inform how preservation policies should be enacted.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View