Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Gentrification of Manhattan Chinatown

Ever since Chinese immigration to the United States was once again legalized nearly 50 years ago, the Chinese population in this country has skyrocketed.  A byproduct of this has been the growth of the existing American urban Chinatowns well past their original boundaries, such as in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Manhattan.  The effect has been especially evident in Manhattan as Chinatown has gobbled up territory formerly part of a number of other neighborhoods, particularly Little Italy and the Lower East Side. 

Until recently, it appeared that this territorial expansion might be never ending.   But all of a sudden, it appears that Manhattan Chinatown is no longer growing, but in fact is giving back some of its territory.  While I just realized this during my recently completed trip to New York, it appears this trend has been percolating for at least a short while.  My focus on this change was brought forth by my stay at the Wyndham Garden Hotel on Broadway, at the edge of the Little Fuzhou portion of Manhattan Chinatown.  Somehow I had missed the fact that this hotel opened up last November, even though I walked by there in February, March, and again in June.  But the fact that this new hotel was built still didn’t signal any alarms, even though a low income Chinese apartment house was torn down to make way for the Wyndham..  What did ring the alarms was staying in the hotel, and realizing that only a small portion of the guests were Chinese, with the largest portion of the guests being European tourists.  Now there’s nothing wrong with European tourists staying in Chinatown, as my favorite place to stay, the Royal Pacific in San Francisco Chinatown, has plenty.  But the Royal Pacific has as many, if not more Chinese guests than non-Chinese guests. 

Walking in and out of the hotel several times and seeing the activity in the lobby and lounge, the vibe of the hotel was clearly SoHo, not Chinatown.  And the Wyndham is not the only new hotel in the area, with newly built Howard Johnson and Fairfield Hotels on Allen St. near Broadway at the eastern edge of Little Fuzhou.  After staying at the Wyndham, I’ll bet those hotels also have few Chinese guests.  But the bigger tell tale sign as to what’s going on in this hood appears across the street from the Wyndham at the newspaper shack, where they now sell copies of the New York Post and New York Times.  Words cannot express my shock at seeing these publications being sold in Chinatown.

Meanwhile, changes are also occurring at the other end of Chinatown.  With the Canal Street counterfeit merchandise trade being decimated by action by both the police and the designers whose merchandise was being ripped off, the north side of Canal Street between Broadway and Lafayette has gone through a stunning change.  Not only did Bank of America take over the northeast corner of Broadway and Canal, which was ground zero for fake Louis purses, but a large Verizon store has moved next door.  And in the middle of the block, a large So Ho style store has been opened,  called Necessary Clothing.  Word is that real estate developers have plans to turn the entire block into an extension of SoHo (or perhaps more accurately, reclaiming territory previously lost to Chinatown). For those who remember all the narrow, deep storefronts on that block of Canal St. with the good stuff hidden way in the back or upstairs, this is a development that is hard to fathom.  A few of those stores are still left, but for how long?