- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 13, 2002

NEW YORK The elders of New York's Chinatown district are not taking chances with the traditional lion dance this year, as they hope for badly needed prosperity and blessings.
Located only six blocks from the western edge of the World Trade Center site, Chinatown's businesses have a long way to go before returning to normal. Many merchants and restaurateurs privately fear that it could take years before business returns to the level of pre-September 11.
Yesterday morning, crowds swelled into the heart of Chinatown, applauding the parade to welcome the Year of the Horse and drive away evil spirits.
Usually, the parade is more of a last-minute event, but this year there was far more planning involved, tourism officials said.
Tony Liu of the 1-year-old Chinatown Tourism and Promotion Association put it bluntly: "We want to bring people down here for the New Year and say, 'Hey, this is Chinatown. Come here and spend your money.'"
Although American and foreign visitors have returned since the September 11 terrorist attacks albeit tentatively to spend their money on Broadway shows and in Madison Avenue boutiques, Chinatown has not been so fortunate. Stores are without customers, restaurants are often empty.
"First we couldn't get deliveries of fresh fish and vegetables, and now we can't get customers," said one weary-looking cook on a cigarette break.
It's been this way, say residents, for five frustrating months.
Within minutes of the Twin Towers' collapse, a thick white cloud of toxic fumes and dust settled over Chinatown, creating a panic that would soon subside, but whose impact would linger.
For the rest of September, Chinatown's roughly 40 square blocks were quarantined in the "frozen zone," off-limits to tourists, diners and even delivery trucks. Without fresh food or spare parts arriving daily, businesses were forced to cut their hours and lay off thousands of workers.
Recovery has been painfully slow.
On a recent crisp, sunny Saturday afternoon a day when the sidewalks should be so clogged that pedestrians are dodging cars on narrow Mott and Pell streets the foot traffic was light and mostly local.
"Business is not so good now," said the proprieter of the Good Field Trading Co., who has hung every inch of his stationary store with red and gold merchandise, symbolizing good luck and wealth, to stimulate holiday cheer.
Even the jewelry stores that line bustling Canal Street are hurting. Business is down by half or even 70 percent, said Mr. Liu, noting "you can't keep that up for long."
The U.S. government has declared a state of economic emergency in lower Manhattan.
Juan Feliciano, manager of the Chinatown office of the government's Federal Emergency Management Agency, set up shop on the third floor of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association on Sept. 19. So far, his staff has processed more than 23,100 applications for assistance.
"This is a business disaster," Mr. Feliciano said. "The air quality was bad for so long, the phones are still not working, and people New Yorkers, tourists, foreigners are still afraid to come down here, so close to ground zero."
"Until you get the tourists back here, the restaurants and shops will suffer," warned Mr. Feliciano. "If a restaurant has to fire a worker, that's a family that will have to cut back on groceries, and other purchases. This is a rolling disaster."

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