By Cindy Hsu

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork)Lunar New Year starts next Friday and it should be the busiest time of the year for Chinatown, but not in 2021.

Because of the pandemic, the historic Lower Manhattan community is barely surviving, but efforts are underway to help save Chinatown.

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This year, without the tourists and local office workers, you find quiet streets and so many stores and restaurants shut down.

“Without New Yorkers coming down, we are at risk of losing Chinatown,” cookbook author Grace Young said.

Young started interviewing business owners when she saw how the fear of COVID, along with anti-Asian sentiment turned Chinatown into a ghost town months before the pandemic affected other parts of New York City.

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“My father and his partners opened up the restaurant back here in 1968,” Peter Lee, of Hop Kee Restaurant, told Young.

“I’m definitely depressed, kind of,” Mei Chau, of Aux Epices, said.

Young, along with the group Welcome to Chinatown, started a campaign to donate 2,000 hot meals to the food insecure in the community. The goal is to raise $20,000 to buy those meals from legacy Chinatown restaurants that are more than 40 years old.

“Chinatown is made up of small businesses, 98% of the businesses here are mom-and-pop, all one-of-a-kind,” Young told CBS2’s Cindy Hsu.

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Those that have survived are hanging by a thread.

Ken Li opened K.K. Discount Store on Mulberry Street more than 30 years ago, and while they’re struggling to stay open, he says young people from the community have helped move his business online through social media, including selfies at the store.

“Can I make a picture with you?” Li said.

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Community activists have created mural projects and organized volunteer street clean-up programs to try to draw more people to the area.

“This is a historic immigrant community and it represents what America is all about,” Young said.

This Lunar New Year is Year of the Ox, an animal known for its strength and dependability, and Chinatown is depending on New Yorkers to show up and lift up the community.

Lunar New Year starts Feb. 12.

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Cindy Hsu