SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — The pandemic has devastated San Francisco’s Chinatown, leaving it without much tourism or foot traffic. Still, the community is trying to make it as festive as safely possible for the Lunar New Year, which begins on February 12.

The Year of the Ox is also making a strong and vibrant entrance. The Chinese Chamber of Commerce of San Francisco has placed 11 colorful, life-size statues painted by artists across the city. Each ox will be auctioned off to benefit local Chinatown non-profit organizations.

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This year, the nation’s biggest annual Lunar New Year parade celebration is canceled, and many businesses are still shuttered.

“I think it’s the worst in my lifetime, because I never experienc[ed] anything worse than this,” said Chinatown business owner Calvin Louie.

Louie was born and raised in Chinatown. He owns a number of businesses, including Top Therapy massage on Clay Street. It’s been closed since the first shelter-in-place in March. He is also a partial owner of Lion’s Den, a new bar and nightlife venue that has yet to open.

“I think the rhetoric from Donald Trump really set everything back for the community in Chinatown, because people thought you can get COVID by coming around Chinatown,” said Louie.

Last year, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a publicized stop in the neighborhood to urge people to support businesses, amid concerns of xenophobia and misinformation.

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Still, the economic impact was immediate and painful. Hannah Zhang is the owner and only worker at iCafe, where sales have dropped 80%.

Speaking in Cantonese, she said despite the huge losses, she feels encouraged that business has picked up a bit ahead of the Lunar New Year.

To date, there have only been 257 reported COVID cases in Chinatown, relatively fewer than the rest of the city.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin said he believes in the resiliency of San Francisco’s Chinatown – the oldest in America.

“They were the first people to put masks on, they were the first people to socially distance,” said Peskin. “They’ve defied the odds.”

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