Asiatown took hit over COVID-19 rumors, but business is back

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Business owners in Chinatown say they are finally seeing an increase in customers after months of working together to stay open during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It's no mystery that every business in the Houston area has suffered this year, but those in Asiatown have been hurt especially hard due to unfounded rumors about the virus.

"Houston's Chinatown actually took a very big hit through some unfounded rumors about an unconfirmed case in a supermarket that was later dispelled," explained Jerry Chen, the owner of Aqua S, an ice cream shop on Bellaire Boulevard. "However, that fear mongering really pushed Chinese people from the community and took away a lot of revenue and businesses."

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The rumors started in early January, before officials believe the pandemic hit the Houston area.

Although the first cases of the virus were reported for China, there was no evidence that Asiatown would have been more dangerous than other parts of Houston.

"It was a little heartbreaking to see division caused by something we should have bonded over," Chen said.

Local businesses and community leaders then began working together to increase education and awareness about the virus.

"We introduced a lot of healthy education, washing hands," explained Chi-mei Lin, the CEO of the Chinese Community Center. "We print out those flyers and send them to apartment complexes."

Over the months, the area has still faced challenges due to coronavirus restrictions and fears, but the initial rumors have been dispelled and business owners said they are seeing big increases in business, both for sit-down meals and take-home options.

"This is a very walkable plaza area," Chez explained. "I think it's time for people to be respectful of the pandemic while still enjoying life to the fullest."

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