People talking in darkened room with tables and chairs (© Christina House/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images)
Chef Ho Chee Boon greets diners at his restaurant Empress by Boon in San Francisco's Chinatown neighborhood January 13. (© Christina House/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images)

More than 2.2 million Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) own businesses in the United States.

From high-tech behemoths to neighborhood eateries, these entrepreneurs have contributed goods, services and jobs to their surrounding communities.

Seven out of 10 female AAPI business owners and six out of 10 male AAPI business owners reported economic losses during the pandemic, according to the National Asian/Pacific Islander American Chamber of Commerce and Entrepreneurship (ACE). But now, with the economy on the upswing, many surviving businesses are thriving and new ones are emerging in place of those that didn’t make it.

One place to observe the phenomenon is America’s Chinatown neighborhoods. Many American cities feature areas populated primarily by Chinese Americans. Those in San Francisco and New York are among the most prominent.

San Francisco’s new businesses shine in old spaces

In San Francisco — home to North America’s oldest Chinatown — COVID-19 damaged many local businesses. Some failed, but today new ones are breathing life into the neighborhood.

Diners sitting at tables facing large windows overlooking cityscape at night (© Christina House/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images)
Diners at Ho Chee Boon’s restaurant Empress by Boon in San Francisco’s Chinatown neighborhood January 13. (© Christina House/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images)

“I want to play my part to bring business back and elevate Chinatown,” Michelin-star winning chef Ho Chee Boon told the South China Morning Post. He opened Empress by Boon one year ago in the space formerly occupied by Empress of China, one of San Francisco’s oldest establishments. “If you see the cover of a book, if it’s attractive and interesting, you will open the book. I want to do this with the restaurant.”

The neighborhood’s first new nightclub in decades, the Lion’s Den, opened in March 2021.

“We think the future of Chinatown will be more food, more entertainment, more unique cocktail lounges like there were in the 1950s,” Lion’s Den co-founder Steven Lee told the South China Morning Post. “Everything comes full circle.”

New York City funds Chinatown revitalization

Local governments are getting involved, too.

In November 2021, the governor of New York gave New York City’s Chinatown a $20 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative award to build on its history as a cultural destination “and return the neighborhood to a vibrant downtown area.”

“Chinatown serves as a beacon of cultural richness and diversity, not just for New Yorkers, but for the entire world,” Governor Kathy Hochul said in a statement. “With this award, Chinatown will shine even brighter and reach its fullest potential as a vibrant community and an international arts and cultural destination.”

People watching parade reflected in shop windows (© Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis/Getty Images)
People watch the annual Lunar New Year parade February 20 in New York City’s Chinatown. (© Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis/Getty Images)

Business owners can submit project proposals to grow small businesses, to improve neighborhood infrastructure or otherwise revitalize the neighborhood.

A committee of AAPI business owners is reviewing project submissions and will announce grant recipients this fall.

“Chinatown is a cultural and historical anchor that is important to the present and future of the Chinese American and Asian American community not just in New York but for the entire Northeast region,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer after the announcement.