Sydney’s Chinatown struggles to recover

“The council has shifted its focus to newly developed areas,” he said. “The night market is a good way of bringing people in but is not enough to bring people in on a regular basis.”

The restauranteur said Chinatown had been struggling before the pandemic, which he blames on the loss of car parking spots, construction of the $3.1 billion light rail line and people staying in their suburbs.

Sussex Street in Chinatown remains quiet just days after COVID-19 restrictions were eased.

Sussex Street in Chinatown remains quiet just days after COVID-19 restrictions were eased.Credit:Kate Geraghty

“Burwood has its own Chinatown and there is not a reason to come to the city,” he said. “When people think of Chinatown they think of that Chinatown [in Burwood] instead of us.”

Lai Lai souvenir shop co-owner Stanley Yip said Chinatown’s main strip had been a “ghost town” since the pandemic began early last year, wiping his store’s turnover by 90 per cent.

“We have a lot of stock that is nearly expired, so we put it on sale, but still there is no one to buy,” said Mr Yip, who has been operating the shop on Dixon Street for 25 years. “It used to be very busy – I’ve never seen it this bad.”

Like other parts of Chinatown, stall operators in Paddy’s Market are heavily reliant on international tourists, which helps to explain why a significant number of spots for stalls were empty on Friday.

Empty stall spaces in Paddy’s Market in Haymarket.

Empty stall spaces in Paddy’s Market in Haymarket.Credit:Kate Geraghty

Stall operator Alex Awan sold $45 worth of clothing in the first five hours of trading on Friday. His neighbour sold nothing in the same period.

“The reason they are empty is that there is no business and people can’t afford to pay the rent. I am also thinking of leaving,” he said. “I have been here for 25-plus years. It is tough.”

Sydney lord mayor Clover Moore said the public domain plans for Chinatown and other areas would build on the council’s success in transforming the city centre street by street, citing work under way to pedestrianise George Street between Town Hall and near Central station.

“None of this work will happen overnight, but these plans will guide how the City, state government and building owners can align our investment,” she said.

Staff at Nanjing Dumpling restaurant prepare food in Sydney’s Chinatown on Friday.

Staff at Nanjing Dumpling restaurant prepare food in Sydney’s Chinatown on Friday.Credit:Kate Geraghty

A $10 million upgrade of Belmore Park near Central station is also among the priority projects that the council is considering for the central city.

Liberal councillor Craig Chung accused the council, which is dominated by Cr Moore’s team, of neglecting Chinatown, noting that six out of 10 priorities for the area had not been completed. “It is absolutely appalling. This is just complete neglect,” he said.

Cr Chung said multiple events such as the pandemic and disruption caused by construction of the light rail line had impacted Chinatown in recent years.

“Any tourist store there is buggered. About 1.2 million tourists a year went to Chinatown pre-pandemic. Now you can shoot a gun up the middle – it is so sad,” he said.


Labor councillor Linda Scott said Chinatown urgently needed support given it had been the hardest hit by the economic impacts of the pandemic. “It is disappointing to see the lord mayor responding to cries for help two years’ late,” said Cr Scott, who will vie with Cr Moore for the mayoralty in council elections in December.

Sydney deputy lord mayor Jess Scully said she hoped everyone would work constructively to support a plan which would benefit one of Sydney’s most unique precincts. “I’m excited about seeing the renewal of the iconic Dixon Street Gates begin shortly, and for businesses and the City to work together to turn Dixon Street into a neon-lit destination for dining, performance and people-watching,” she said.

Haymarket Chamber of Commerce vice-president Jessie Xiao said she hoped the state government and council would pour more money into Chinatown to give it a facelift. “We would like to see a revival of Chinatown,” she said.

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