SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi walked through San Francisco’s Chinatown District Monday, attempting to quell fears about the current outbreak of the coronavirus that has kept customers out of shops and restaurants and tourists away from the streets.
Throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, Asian-American owned stores and restaurants have seen a decline in business since the illness began its rapid spread in Wuhan, China, last month.
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At the typically packed Shooting Star Cafe on Webster Street in Oakland, tables were empty during lunch hour last week. The owner says it’s been like that every day recently.
“Besides the locals not coming in, a lot of people are trying to avoid Chinatown in general and avoid Asians, I would say,” said co-owner Sunny Wong.
The same has been true in San Francisco’s Chinatown — a major tourist destination — and Pelosi hoped her visit would help bring the normal hustle and bustle of the neighborhood back.
“It’s exciting to be here, especially at this time,” said Pelosi as she walked surrounded by media and onlookers. “To be able to be unified with our community.
We want to be vigilant about what might be on the horizon — what is out there in other places. We want to be careful how we deal with it (coronavirus). But we do want to say to people, come to Chinatown. Here we are, again, careful, safe, and come join us.”
Ironically, as Pelosi walked through the district, the lights were out at most of the businesses and restaurants. Pacific Gas & Electric was suffering a power outage to nearly 1,700 customers in the district.
But the power outage did not dampen the gratitude of the merchants who encountered Pelosi. Tane Chan, owner of The Wok Shop on Grant, was overcome with emotions and hugged the Speaker with tears in her eyes.
Pelosi also toured the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie in Chinatown’s Ross Alley with owner Kevin Chan.
“Our business is very, very honored,” Chan said of Pelosi’s visit. “We feel very honored to have Madame Speaker here to support us. The virus is happening and she’s come here to clarify that we are very safe here.”
Chan told KPIX 5 business is off by 75 to 80 percent.
“A couple of hundred dollars a day; like $500-$600 a day. That makes a big impact,” said Chan.
He has a simple pitch for tourists: “Don’t let this kind of virus scare you off.”
Even tourists have noticed how empty the streets in Chinatown are.
“This place is dead. Right now. Every restaurant is empty. Every shop is empty. There’s no tourists walking around here,” Peter Wood from Burbank told KPIX 5.
“You should come to Chinatown. Precautions have been taken by our city. We know that there is concern about tourism all throughout the world, but we think it’s very safe to be in Chinatown. I hope that others will come,” said Pelosi at a dim sum restaurant Monday afternoon.
Andria Borba contributed to this story.