Sad to see: Edmonton’s Chinatown loses business after murders, rising crime

The 97 Hot Pot restaurant in Edmonton’s Chinatown was crowded on weekends, with some customers queuing up for slow-cooked vegetables, lamb and beef.

But this has not been the case lately.

Manager Vincent Lau says the killings of two workers at nearby stores last month and years of social unrest in the city’s centuries-old neighborhood have frightened many regular visitors.

“Business has stalled significantly in the last few weeks,” said Lau, who lives a 15-minute walk from the restaurant.

“Chinatown has been here for a long time, so it’s sad to see. The possibility of a safer area would welcome more guests and more citizens in this part of the city.”

Wen Wong, executive director of the Chinatown and Area Business Association, said the McCauley neighborhood has been deteriorating over the past 20 years.

The decline was exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the oldest bakery in the community burned to the ground and many other cases of arson and vandalism followed.

Edmonton police said there was a growing trend of violence, riots and property crimes in areas including Chinatown, the center and the transit system.

Years ago, many businesses in Chinatown stayed open late into the night to serve busy customers, Wong said. Many of them close by 6 pm now and work with locked doors during the day, so customers have to knock to enter.

“We surveyed our members and nearly 100 percent said Chinatown was extremely dangerous, especially at night,” Wong said, adding that he does not go out at night.

Lau said the killing of Ban Fuq Hoang and Hung Trang a few blocks from his restaurant made it difficult to attract customers. Hoang was working in his electronics store when he was attacked. Trang was found dead in front of the garage where he worked.

Lau said some of his older male workers regularly walk the servers to their cars after shifts, “because we’re afraid of what might happen.”

Hung Trang, 64, and Ban Fuq Hoang, 61, were killed in Chinatown last month. (Emily Fitzpatrick / CBC)

Wong said addiction and mental health problems have worsened and more people have been in the area to access nearby social service centers.

Volunteers collect up to 300 needles a month in the community, which is just a few blocks from safe drug sites in Edmonton, he said.

“I don’t understand why and how many safe injection sites and these centers were located near Chinatown,” Wong said.

“We have a lot of homeless people who come in and don’t want to leave,” Lau added.

“We have to call the police, which sometimes takes up to an hour.

Wong said he had counted 150 businesses operating at the start of the pandemic, and today there are about 120.

The children of many business owners are telling their parents they do not want to continue running their family shops because it is a challenge, he said.

“We have fewer and fewer Chinese owners because they are getting older. It’s hard for the Chinese community.”

Lau and Wong agree that two solutions will help Chinatown become the colorful, tourist-friendly and bustling neighborhood it once was: more security and fewer social service centers in the area.

Last week, Mayor Amarjit Sohi announced a plan to tackle crime. It includes $ 1 million to revitalize Chinatown, business grants to improve security, more public restrooms in the center and help for cleaning owners.

In the long run, the city plans to force the province to stop letting mentally ill patients and those released from provincial penitentiaries into the streets. This was after questions were raised as to why the man accused of killing Hoang and Trang was left in Edmonton by the RCMP when the condition of his release was that he could only be in town for an addiction treatment program.

The city also wants to decentralize social services, which are now concentrated near Chinatown for five years.

Edmonton police said they were also developing a strategy to increase community safety with more downtown employees.

Wong said 12 security guards in cars, bicycles and on foot patrolled the area from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week since the funding was released. It will cover their expenses for a period of up to six months.

He is not sure what will happen next.

“We hope to see a big change for the better.”

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