NY Pols Seek To Make Business Signs Mostly English

NEW YORK (AP) — The teeming streets of Flushing, Queens, can feel like a different country.

A booming Chinese population exists alongside a longtime Korean enclave. On a recent afternoon, the sidewalks were jammed with shoppers browsing and haggling in stores offering everything from iPhones to herbal remedies. Stalls selling fragrant dumplings and tea shops did a brisk business.

Day trippers from Manhattan or the suburbs often come to eat and shop here on weekends, savoring the broad array of foods and products available. But to some, the area can feel a little too foreign.

Republican City Councilmen Dan Halloran and Peter Koo are drafting legislation that would require store signs in the city to be mostly in English. They say police officers and firefighters need to be able to quickly identify stores.

The change also would protect consumers and allow local shops to expand outside their traditional customer base, the council members argue. But merchants say it would be an unnecessary and costly burden on small businesses and would homogenize diverse pockets of the city that cater mostly to immigrant residents.

“People must respect that this is a special area and please respect the Asian culture,” said Peter Tu, executive director of the Flushing Chinese Business Association. “They have their own life in this area. When you walk in the street, you don’t feel like you are in America.”

Two bills are pending in the council to change language on store signs. One, introduced in May, would authorize inspectors with the city Department of Consumer Affairs to enforce a little-known state law that requires businesses to display their names in English. The second bill, which will be introduced later this summer, would stipulate that the sign should be at least 60 percent English. Businesses would have four years to comply, after which they’d face fines starting at $150.

“This is designed for public safety, consumer protection and to start increasing the foot traffic into the stores,” Halloran said.

The law on the books — passed in 1933 and dubbed the true name bill — classifies a violation as a misdemeanor but is not enforced. Its primary intent was to protect creditors and consumers from fraud by informal stores that popped up during the Great Depression.

The president of the Flushing on the Hill Civic Association, David Kulick, said store signs provoke different concerns these days, mostly from longtime residents who find it insulting or off-putting when they can’t read them.

Assemblywoman Grace Meng said she’s heard many of those complaints. She started a task force on the issue last year and supports the council legislation.

“The heart of the issue is not just about an English sign,” Meng said. “They don’t feel like they can communicate in their own neighborhoods.”

The issue has cropped up before in the district.

Similar legislation was proposed in the 1980s by former Councilwoman Julia Harrison. Her successor, John Liu, now city comptroller, commissioned a survey eight years ago and found only a small percentage of signs did not include English.

A spokesman for Liu said the legislation was probably unnecessary.

“In an ever-changing global city, this issue has surfaced for the past 100 years in different parts of New York, involving a panoply of languages from Yiddish to Spanish to Greek and now Chinese and Korean,” Liu spokesman Matthew Sweeney said in a statement.

Koo, who currently represents Flushing in the council, owns five local pharmacies with signs in English and Chinese. He said he would change his own signs to comply with the law.

“This is America, right? English is the main language,” Koo said. “If I go to a Spanish or Polish neighborhood I would like the sign to at least be in English so I can understand.”

Dian Yu, executive director of the Flushing Business Improvement District, said most stores in Flushing would have to change their signs to comply with the law because they include English but not enough of it.

Yu added that there was a misperception that local merchants don’t want non-Asian customers. Many shops simply cater to Asian customers because they make the bulk of the purchases, he said.

The bills’ prospects remain unclear.

Councilwoman Diana Reyna, chair of the small business committee, said in a statement it would strain relationships between immigrant entrepreneurs and the government.

Councilman Peter Vallone, chair of the public safety committee, said there are unresolved questions about how the legislation would work, such as whether the size of the lettering would matter.

The Department of Consumer Affairs referred questions to the mayor’s office, which declined to comment. A police spokeswoman, Detective Cheryl Crispin, said in an email the department was “not aware of this arising as a police issue.”

Meng said the bill was part of a wider strategy to encourage interaction between different groups in her district.

“My goal in bringing up this whole issue a year ago was to bridge the gap between cultures,” she said. “This is not going to solve it. But it’s part of the resolution.”

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

Comments

One Comment

  1. American says:

    THIS IS AMERICA–IF YOU WANT OUR BENEFITS FOLLOW OUR RULES !!!
    If I Go to China or Korea will I get everything for Free???

    1. Rodin says:

      Do you want America to be China or (North) Korea?

      Idiots….

  2. C says:

    “People must respect that this is a special area and please respect the Asian culture,” said Peter Tu, executive director of the Flushing Chinese Business Association. “They have their own life in this area. When you walk in the street, you don’t feel like you are in America.”

    YOU ARE IN AMERICA! It is not disrespectful to the Asian culture to have the signs in both English and whatever particular Asian language the owner desires. It is necessary. I live in Flushing and rarely venture further into the main Asian hub. When I am down there (I should clarify that I’m a plain looking white girl), I feel the stares and looks of dislike from many of the people. I like to eat Asian food and shop at Asian stores but usually I feel like I’m not welcome.

    NYC is an amazing melting pot of so many different cultures. You cannot come to America and create a completely segregated “Little Asia”. Americans welcome the different cultures but since English is our primary language, it would be helpful if you would include some of it in your signs. You are not giving up your culture. In fact, the more welcoming you are to other cultures, you are becoming teachers of your culture. Be open to sharing your culture, while maintaining your unique diversity.

    1. C says:

      I also should note that most of the businesses do have English in their signs. As long as the signs are clear as to what the shops are, that would be great. For the sake of emergency crews of whatever type, there should be clarity ) as to the name of the store. It really helps when responding to an emergency call in an area of several businesses shoved into a small spot. A few extra seconds or minutes can make a big difference in saving a life.

    2. Rodin says:

      “YOU ARE IN AMERICA! It is not disrespectful to the Asian culture to have the signs in both English and whatever particular Asian language the owner desires. It is necessary.”

      Note that the vast majority of ‘those people’, correctness aside, speak at least ONE MORE LANGUAGE than the vast majority of Amerikkkans do.

      RESPECT AND HONOR THE DIVERSITY WE SO BOAST ABOUT, NOT IGNORANCE AND NATIVISM.

  3. pikachu says:

    It would be nice to have some English in the signs, at lease people can know what kind of store they getting themself into…but 60% in English might be to hardish, 40%-50% will be good!!

  4. Rodin says:

    Their neighborhoods, their businesses, their signs.

    “The teeming streets of Flushing, Queens, can feel like a different country.”

    This is the essence of NYC, its life and blood, its charm.

    1. Rodin says:

      “Day trippers from Manhattan or the suburbs often come to eat and shop here on weekends, savoring the broad array of foods and products available. BUT TO SOME, THE AREA CAN FEEL A LITTLE TOO FOREIGN.”

      Shameful. Stay home and eat at MacDonalds! Educate, don’t insulate. Learn to eat with chop sticks!

      1. Irritated says:

        This whole article is silly. The critical point is that in a fire, fire-fighters ought to be able to spot potential explosives — paint, spray-cans, etc. A store can simply make a placard to display in the window. Intelligent restaurant owners have dual-language menus.

        There are biased chauvinists on both sides.

        Fantasists who want to pretent they’re still in Korea are disneyfied, not realistic.

      2. Rodin says:

        “The critical point is that in a fire, fire-fighters ought to be able to spot potential explosives” is NOT the “critical point,” it’s the excuse, the red herring, the bait, the stuff bigots, English only and “AmeriKKKa firsters” always hide behind.

        Maybe NYPD and FDNY should diversify and educate specialists to serve these neighborhoods. BTW, I believe they already do.

        Look at the image above and you’ll notice all the signs are in both Chinese AND English.

    2. Rodin says:

      While we should be proud of this diversity and learn from other cultures, we insist on dumbing down. This from people who can barely speak or write their own language. Witness the posts here.

    3. Rodin says:

      As to Assemblywoman Grace Meng, always the assimilationist, always the c o o l i e.

  5. murrayhill says:

    In all fairness, many of the children of these immigrants have assimilated very nicely. Most are just people looking for a better life just as the all the groups before them. When other groups came in waves in times past, they too had signs in their native tongues. We just didn’t notice it all that much since they were mostly tucked away on the lower east side. That being said, they really do need to bring Flushing back into the mainstream of America. Ethnicity is fine as far as if goes, but you must conform to the language of your adopted country and not try to make over neighborhoods in the image of your native land. I was born and raised in Flushing before it became Chinatown and when I return on visits, it seems as though it has been hijacked. The time is right for assimilation.

  6. richiano says:

    Its about time the lawmakers wake up! And where is Mike Bloomberg’s head
    OUT TO LUNCH as usual.

  7. David Heath says:

    Having lived in China for 8 years, to come back to the West to see them taking over terrifies me. But to have the authorities tell the common citizen how he may or may not promote his business is everything that capitalism is not. How can anyone who believes in the market and the right of an American to make a profit anyway he can, provided it’s legal (and I trust no-one here is arguing that how one expresses himself should be bound by bureaucratic red tape) suggest that such restrictions be put in place when the behemoths- Google, Facebook, Microsoft- can ignore the concept of privacy and grow in intrusiveness without the slightest obstacle? If you don’t like a shop selling its wares in Mandarin, don’t patronise that place of business.
    http://www.tracesofevil.com

  8. oscar says:

    Although English is not recognized as an oficial language, America can not be overuled by so many minorities. The fact of the mater is that America is the place to be oif you are oppressed, victimized, prosecuted because of yoru politicla beliefs, etc. so the the least newcomers can do, as a show of gratitud, is to lear the language of the country that offers them freedom, oportunity and abundance like they have never experienced before.
    Speaking it clearly must be a must and should be the comun language for us to be able to communicate.
    Tourists can always have a guide, a friend or a relative to survive while visiting.

  9. Dale Auburn says:

    I find it interesting that Council Member Koo is sponsoring this. He owns 5 pharmacies in Flushing, so he would be subject to his own rule!

  10. HUGO says:

    Hey Nathan, glad to see you support non English signs only. Enjoy the third world transformation.

  11. M.A.D says:

    THE SIGNS SHOULD BE IN ENGLISH.

Comments are closed.

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