Once flush with Chinese tourist dollars, San Gabriel Valley is looking for a new normal

(Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

Once flush with Chinese tourist dollars, San Gabriel Valley is looking for a new normal

Homepage News, California Politics

Frank Shyong

November 10, 2023

When my reporting takes me to the San Gabriel Valley, I often stop at Jim’s Bakery for egg tarts, Ba Le for banh mi and Alice’s Kitchen for rice rolls, if my diet can warrant it.

But they were all closed

this past

Tuesday is a common day off for restaurants, especially mom-and-pop businesses where family members work every shift. A growing number


However, in the immigrant neighborhoods of the San Gabriel Valley, they seem to be closed one or more days a week, even in the popular and established neighborhoods.

It is a possible sign of the

challenging economic headwinds for the region


Food costs have not yet recovered from the supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic. California’s new minimum wage requirements, while putting needed money in the hands of wage workers, are putting pressure on small businesses looking to expand their hours. And delivery apps have taken a permanent chunk of restaurants’ businesses.

The problem is exacerbated by the growing costs of doing business in a physical format


. Waldo Yan opened 626 Hospitality, a specialty ice cream shop, two weeks ago in an Arcadia strip mall; he also decided to close on Tuesdays.


hardly a day of rest, but


he said he spends his time on paperwork, inventory and other work for the restaurant.

“Fridays are a distant fantasy right now,” Yan said. “Weekdays are a total mess.”

The San Gabriel Valley’s popularity with Chinese investors, tourists and homebuyers has always helped the region withstand domestic economic shocks. But now a dramatic downturn in the Chinese economy could exacerbate the region’s problems.

The pandemic has made travel between the U.S. and China more difficult, and that has “slowed things down in a culture that prefers to do everything in person,” said Paul Thomas, deputy CEO of the San Gabriel Valley Economic Partnership. “Chinese businessmen build trust by going out for dinner and doing it online, via Zoom, which is kind of a non-starter.”

In China, youth unemployment rose to 21.3% in June; the government stopped reporting the figures not long afterwards. A Communist Party that built its popularity on double-digit growth in gross domestic product now faces an economy that is growing at the same rate as any mature economy, such as the US. in 2022.

That economic pressure has led to a political crackdown on merchants, entrepreneurs and private wealth. According to recent reports from the International Monetary Fund, it is no longer certain that China will dethrone America economically. And US-China relations are still recovering from Trump-era tariffs, tough talk and pandemic finger-pointing.

“It hasn’t been this bad since Nixon’s trip,” said USC President Clayton Dube

US-China institutions


China center,

referring to the

earlier than

-The president’s historic visit in 1972, which was credited with helping to thaw relations

between the two countries. “This is the low point of half a century, and I’m afraid this is the new normal.”

The University of California campuses are accepting fewer and fewer students from abroad. Admissions for international students from China were down 22% last year compared to 2019. Dube said the Chinese student population at USC had remained stable.

And while Chinese tourists are starting to return to California, there are only a third as many as in 2019, according to the Los Angeles Tourism organization.

and Convention

Plate. Then came more than 1.5 million visitors who injected more than $4 billion into the state economy.

An estimated 10


Fifteen tourist offices in Rosemead have closed, according to Ray Jan, deputy director of the Rosemead Chamber of Commerce. A lot of the

owners of

businesses I’ve talked to over the past decade have closed.

Meanwhile, several hotels are under construction or recently completed, built in anticipation of tourism that may never materialize. Some of these were funded by the EB-5 investor visa, which provides a path to a green card in exchange for a large investment in a U.S. company. But that financing mechanism has also largely faded, according to interviews with developers, lawyers and city leaders.

The flow of Chinese capital, goods and tourism into California over the past two decades has helped

transform suburbs into thriving cities, build luxury hotels and billboards for


10,000 watches next to mobile phone shops and liquor stores.

But it was not clear whether all the Chinese who bought American homes planned to live there, and whether the Chinese students attending local universities would seek American jobs. Many of the students I spoke to


over the years they hoped to stay here and build a life, but almost all eventually returned to China, many to take jobs in the family business



I think this could all change if the economy in China tightens. Because fewer Chinese are able to do that


If they identify with their government’s increasingly authoritarian policies, more immigrants may seek to build their lives in the U.S.

And therein lies the real promise and opportunity in the San Gabriel Valley.

The region, which is predominantly Latino and Asian, offers a glimpse of the future of California and America. At a time when it is increasingly difficult to get reliable news from China, relationships here can help us see through the distortions of political rhetoric and social media and shape our own relationships with Chinese culture and people.

Even as international investment declines, local businesses are returning to pre-pandemic levels, some entrepreneurs say. In Monterey Park, the old Shun Fat supermarket has been renovated

GW SupermarketG W Market

with floors of freshly scrubbed concrete and neatly stacked products.

NBC Restaurant, a venerable standby for dim sum, is packed again on Friday nights, said Monterey Park Councilman Henry Lo. Even the old Lincoln Hotel underwent a renovation in 2019.

“We are a city in transition. I would say we are still an international city, but also a city trying to find its place in a post-pandemic world,” Lo said.


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