CLEVELAND — The fragrant smells of sizzling stir-fry fill the air in the kitchen of Li Wah restaurant, a longtime fixture in Cleveland's AsiaTown district. But the usual crowds of customers are missing these days.
"Our business is probably off by 40%," said manager Ed Hom, the son of owner, Donna Hom, who opened the restaurant on East 30th and Payne Ave. in 1991.
Local Chinese restaurants are seeing a drastic drop in business, blamed on fears over the novel coronavirus. At nearby Siam Cafe, business has dropped 50% since after Chinese New Year, when concerns over the virus spread to the United States.
"Of course they're scared, because they don't know if that person has been in contact with an Asian recently from the Far East," said Hom. However, a manager at another Chinese restaurant, who didn't want to be identified, told 3News that business is starting to return, as far fewer people are traveling to China, since all major U.S. airlines have suspended flights to mainland China until at least April.
Meanwhile, it's not just restaurants that are suffering. Stores selling Chinese imports are seeing a shortage of inventory.
"Thus, it made us charge more for inventory; people don't want to buy it, and it make our sales go down," said Danny Zhang, owner of Flower City Gift Shop in AsiaTown Plaza.
Asian grocery stores also said fears of coronavirus on Chinese products are keeping some shoppers away too. But can the virus live on good and packages delivered from China? Our VERIFY team got answers from Dr. Nancy Messonnier, Director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease at the Centers for Disease Control.
"In general, because of the poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, that's in the range of hours, there's likely a very, very, very low if any risk of spread from products or packaging that is shipped over a period of days or weeks in ambient temperatures," said Messonnier.
As of Tuesday, there are 57 cases of the novel coronavirus in the United States. Despite zero confirmed cases in Ohio, local restaurants wait for better times ahead. Hom recalls enduring a similar nosedive in business during the SARS outbreak in 2003.
"We are lucky to have a good foundation and can be patient," he said.