GREAT NECK, NY — Asian American restaurants and businesses on Long Island have seen customer traffic plummet in recent weeks, and a Great Neck lawmaker thinks unfounded fears about the new coronavirus is to blame.
Representatives of more than a dozen businesses throughout Long Island, including in Great Neck, recently told state Sen. Anna Kaplan they’ve seen sales fall. In some cases, business has declined as much as 40 percent to 70 percent. This includes restaurants and even a children’s day care.
She believes the decline in business is tied to news coverage of the new virus, now officially called COVID-19, which is caused by a member of the coronavirus family. It’s a close cousin to the SARS and MERS viruses that have caused outbreaks in the past.
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At least 34 people in the United States have become infected with the virus spreading from China, federal health officials said Friday. Each has been linked to travel overseas.
In New York, 26 people were investigated as possibly having the virus — six in New York City and 20 outside the city as of Saturday. Of those, 25 tests came back negative, and one is pending.
“I think there’s a lot of fear among a lot of people,” Kaplan told Patch in a phone interview Saturday. “Unfounded fear. I have heard and read about a lot of small businesses, a lot of small restaurants who are hurting.”
Kaplan’s diverse district — which includes Great Neck, Port Washington, Roslyn, Old Westbury, Mineola and Floral Park — has a large community of people who are of Chinese American descent. On Saturday, she held an event at New Fu Restaurant on Middle Neck Road to remind people these businesses are a significant part of their communities and downtown areas.
“We want to make sure our downtowns are viable, that they’re not depressing when we’re walking down and one store is closed after another,” she said.
Kaplan added: “We stand with them. We should not let fear, unfounded fear, take over.”
When asked whether xenophobia plays a contributing factor, Kaplan said it was possible. She wants people to support all small businesses in their communities as much as they can, particularly with the recent struggles Asian American businesses face. And for those who do, Kaplan offered some friendly advice: Avoid tight-fitting clothes — you won’t leave hungry.