Adaptation, Community, and Identity
The stories of three business owners in Quincy illuminate the city’s development as a center of Asian-American entrepreneurship and business development. Through a collaboration with filmmaker, Daphne Xu, the interviews shared by Jim Mei, Chris Yee, and Lorraine Tse, highlight the larger trends and context relevant to the ongoing challenges of accessing resources, lack of support, and the impacts of COVID-19 on the Asian-owned business community. Closed captioning is provided in both English and Chinese, we encourage you to enable this feature when viewing. Learn more about the project.
A photographer and hair stylist, Jim Mei had served Quincy’s community for twenty years when the pandemic hit.
Jim first moved from Brighton to Quincy to start Jim’s Hair Salon in 1990, and since then, the demographics of the city have changed rapidly. Since 1990, the Asian American population has increased 22% (US Census), leading to a strong and loyal customer base for Jim’s business to grow over the years. However during the COVID-19 pandemic, Jim – like other sole proprietors in the service industry – has struggled to access sufficient financial relief. For sole proprietors like Jim, closing his doors for months and then re-opening at a reduced capacity presents difficult financial challenges. The Federal Paycheck Protection Program meant to support business owners like Jim has served only 38% of establishments in Quincy (MAPC August 2020). While the City of Quincy has distributed nearly $1 million in grants to 100 businesses, this only represents 3% of small businesses in Quincy and continued support will be necessary through the duration of this pandemic. Maintaining the strength of Quincy’s small business community requires strategies to ensure that Asian immigrant business owners connect to the supports and resources they need.
Chris brought his Lion Dance studio to Quincy from Lowell to connect with its strong Asian immigrant community. Faced with lost revenues and high rent, he has struggled to stay in Quincy.
Unlike Jim Mei, Chris Yee is a newcomer to Quincy’s small business community, he brought his Hung Gar Kung Fu and Lion Academy from Lowell to Quincy in 2017. Whereas the Asian immigrant community of Quincy grew alongside Jim’s business, newcomers like Chris had to find available space and build community connections. Each of Quincy’s small business districts have their own unique characteristics and dominating industries. The North Quincy and Wollaston business districts are retail-oriented and home to the Asian immigrant entrepreneur community (source: City of Quincy’s Small Business Study, MAPC 2020). The southern portion of Quincy Center where Chris Yee previously rented space is dominated by professional services such as lawyers and real estate agents, and lacks visibility among the Asian immigrant customer base. The entire city has also seen rapidly increasing rent in the past decade with more investment in market-rate housing and public space which has, as a result, driven up rents for businesses; market rent per square foot in Quincy has gone up 15% since 2010, making it hard for small business owners like Chris to pay rent.
CEO of Sunshine Travel Agency, Lorraine has expanded the Asian immigrant community’s access to travel opportunities and provided language services to the region.
Regional tourism has been one of the hardest hit industries during the COVID-19 outbreak. A combination of increased travel restrictions and closed borders for many international travelers have had a devastating impact on travel agency operators like Lorraine Tse and her company, Sunshine Travel Agency. On a recent webinar hosted by NBC10, the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau stated that Boston area hotels would be seeing an occupancy rate of around 28% this year, instead of the usual 75%. In response to this, Lorraine made a creative pivot to grocery delivery to keep her business running and her workers employed. In addition to a challenging economy, Lorraine also speaks to the increased xenophobia against the Asian community that has been present since COVID-19 first entered public perception in January 2020. The Stop AAPI Hate Reporting Center run by the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council has reported a significant increase in xenophobic incidents in Massachusetts in 2020. As one of the first individuals to support the region with translation and interpretation services, Lorraine has contributed to the region’s ability to serve its Asian immigrant community. There is a need now for those efforts to be met with a robust government effort to combat racism and xenophobia directly.