Chinatown festivities attract more than just residents

By SpencerRoush

Chinatown’s 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China and the Moon Festival, which celebrates the conclusion of the harvest season, attracted approximately 10,000 tourists and community members on Sept. 27 for a massive celebration.

These festivals and parades bring in large amounts of revenue for business owners in Chinatown, according to Chi Can To, co-executive director of the local Chinatown Chamber of Commerce. He said even though the economic recession has hurt a lot of other businesses downtown, Chinatown’s businesses have remained steady and revenue has actually increased during the past few years.

Sharon Wong, organizer of the Moon Festival, said visitors flooded the streets of Chinatown and people were lined up outside restaurants waiting for  tables to open up.

Can To said the neighborhood has taken a more prominent stage in Chicago, especially with the help of festivals and other activities that draw visitors to the area.

He said Chinatown’s revenue from tourists accounts for approximately 30 to 40 percent of their total revenue. The festival celebrating the Chinese New Year brings in the most tourists, but the Moon Festival is their second largest event.

Can To said the main functions of their festivals are to increase tourism and business opportunities and to make Chinatown a major destination point for visitors to the Midwest and the city of Chicago.

“I think we have noticed a little bit less traffic on the weekdays, but on the weekends, I think attendance in Chinatown [with] tourists tends to rise actually,” Can To said. “Everything has always been quite affordable, including the parking lot, it’s one of the cheapest in Chicago, and the food and all of the entertainment.”

The economy has actually encouraged new visitors to come to Chinatown because of the cheaper prices and their reputation for quality products, according to Can To.

“Chinatown has a reputation that draws steady followers,” said Z.J. Tong, the president and founder of the Chicago Chinese Cultural Institute, Inc. “This is also an opportunity for people who may regularly go to much more expensive restaurants to opt [for] something that is equally as good, but doesn’t cost as much.”

Tong said the recession could be an opportunity for Chinatown if they promote themselves the right way because the festivals and parades can also bring in a lot of out-of-state and international visitors.

“Many people are from the Tri-State area, Michigan, Indiana and south of Illinois as well,” Can To said. “We also get international visitors from Holland, Germany, Italy and various other international destinations. There are quite a lot of tourists that come from mainland China as well.”

Tong said these special events are the best way to promote Chinatown and its businesses because many people that attend festivals aren’t people that would come to the area any other day.

According to Can To, the festivals can offer a variety of different goods. The booths set up for festivals are from local Chinese businesses that are selling their wares, but there are also booths from companies outside Chinatown that want more exposure.

Wong said Chinatown’s activities bring many visitors to the Chicago area, which can help out the economy and profits, not only in Chinatown, but also other parts of the city, including the South Loop.

Tong said because Chinatown visitors are sometimes from out of state or from overseas, they stay at hotels and spend money in the downtown area.

“We have a good relationship with Windella Boats, Chicago Water Taxi, and also CPS [Central Parking System] Parking, with the parking lots,”  Can To said. “They all see a market increase in their revenue when there are special events [in Chinatown].”