New chamber of commerce in Seattle's international district to address safety concerns

Seattle’s International District has a new outlook for the future as the state prepares to reopen after the pandemic. Business owners developed a new Seattle Chinese American Chamber of Commerce with several goals, including addressing safety concerns and revitalizing the historic part of the city.

"There’s that light of hope and we have to capitalize on that light of hope right now with relationship building, clearing the misunderstandings, showing love and support for one another," said David Leong, chamber chairman.

Leong is a third-generation Chinese American in Chinatown- International District. He owns Fortuna Café 2.0 in the CID, SpiceUp in Seattle’s Belltown District and a martial arts studio in Bellevue. Leong said positive momentum in the CID was long-awaited. He explained the community experienced discrimination, hate, and violence for the last year and a half.

"Misunderstandings, anger, frustration. Then you throw the pandemic on top of that and that hit so hard and so fast," said Leong. "I’m a person with 30 years' restaurant experience and retail experience. I was at a loss last year. I didn’t know which way to turn—go forward, go left, go right, go back."

"We know in the mayor’s office that the CID was one of the first neighborhoods hit by the pandemic and hit hard. Not just because this is a restaurant neighborhood that thrives on food traffic, but because of anti-Asian sentiment that came out," said a representative from the mayor’s office.

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Overcoming anti-Asian sentiment encouraged business owners to start the new chamber of commerce.

"Definitely a learning experience of survival and resiliency," said Leong. "We’re all trying to find solutions for community. Not just one community, but the entire community."

During the chamber’s first meeting, Friday, members discussed plans to promote all the good things about the neighborhood and its safety.

"Make sure that our citizens here feel safe a d have an atmosphere of safety. There are obviously some hurdles that we have to go through and dig beyond, but we can do that. We’ve seen this before," said Capt. PL Davis, Commander of Collaborative Police Bureau for the Seattle Police Department.

SPD and the mayor’s office are partners supporting the chamber rebuilding the community and its confidence. Davis said department liaisons will be helping this effort.

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"Open and honest collaboration, that willingness to step up and say something when you feel something is not right, or even hold us to task when we’re not as transparent as we need to be," said Davis. "It’s going to take work from Seattle Police Department. It’s going to take work from other city agencies. It’s going to take work from our city executives as well. But as a team, I believe we can get that goal."

During the meeting, a representative from the mayor’s office said the city will provide 2,000 ORCA cards to grocery and restaurant workers in the CID and Pioneer Square. He explained the voter-approved initiative is to help people get back to work and recover from the pandemic.

Leong said the chamber can’t move forward without acknowledging the past Chinatown Chamber of Commerce founded in 1963. The former group had been inactive for some time. He said he hopes the new group will carry the legacy of the original chamber.

"We want to honor the pioneers," said Leong. "This is something that is very dear and important to us. And we want to acknowledge the sacrifices that the early generations made."

He mentioned the chamber is working with the city to host a big event with food and music in the CID this summer. Leong said anyone interested in joining the chamber is welcome. As the new chamber continues planning goals for the CID, Leong said he hopes discouragement from the pandemic won’t dictate their optimistic future.

"Every state, every city is going through very similar issues like we are in Seattle. And I think that if we really think rationally and approach the situation in a calm and respectful way, we’re going to make some headway. It’s baby steps and I think the key is fairness. Fairness for all," said Leong.

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