This article originally appeared in the Philadelphia Business Journal here.
Night Market, the popular series of outdoor street festivals that attracts thousands of people every year, is hitting the streets of Chinatown for the fourth year in a row Thursday night.
“It produces a number of benefits. One is it underscores the cultural importance of Chinatown as a place and a destination,” said John Chin, executive director of the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corp. “No. 2, it’s a good economic generator for the businesses along the commercial corridors.”
And, although the markets create traffic havoc, it pays dividends because they draw somewhere north of 20-some-thousand people to Chinatown, a good percentage of which will be repeat customers.
While Night Markets is an economic boon for Philadelphia — since its inception in 2010, the events have generated $11.4 million in economic impact, supporting 123 jobs and generating $134,000 in city tax revenues, according to a report by Econsult Solutions Inc. — they hold a very different meaning for residents in Chinatown.
Philadelphia’s Night Market concept is largely influenced by markets prevalent and celebrated in Asia (my motherland Philippines included), which residents in Chinatown can identify with, especially first-generation immigrants.
“Up until four years ago, we never had this type of large-scale outdoor food event, which recreates an event that first-generation immigrants missed about their homes,” Chin said. “The first year we did it, we had this older woman sitting on her stoop, thanking PCDC because she’s been away from home for 20 years, and the Night Market was one thing she missed about home.”
Holding the Night Market in Chinatown reminded that woman of home.
And, speaking from experience, I can say the hustle and bustle of the Night Markets — with a plethora of food and other offerings — certainly remind me of similar markets back in the Philippines like the Divisoria Market in Manila.
Attracting new blood
For the first year of Night Market, it was a tricky concept to get businesses on board, since many of them were older generation businesses, said Diana Minkus, Night Market manager. However, after the success of the first year, the businesses were on board for year two and beyond.
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And, at more than 20,000 attendees every year, Chinatown continues to be a partner for Night Market because it attracts a younger generation — something necessary to stay alive in the business.
“I can tell you that in the last few years, there’s been a lot of new businesses opening up in Chinatown that’s attracting a younger crowd, which I think has contributed to the sustainability and growth of our Philadelphia Chinatown,” Chin said. “If you do a quick research about Chinatowns across the country, those that have not figured out how to develop a whole new generation of customers are struggling.”
And it seems to be the case — due to gentrification, there’s been a slow decline in American Chinatowns, according to BBC News.
“The traditional Chinatown is changing, and in most cities it is no longer the residential, political and cultural center of Asian-American life that it once was,” Wei Li, a professor atArizona State University, told BBC News.
For example, the success of the immigrant families are causing them to move from Manhattan, N.Y.’s Chinatown to younger Chinese neighborhoods like Flushing and Brooklyn’s Sunset Park.
This makes the Night Market in Philadelphia all the more attractive to Chinatown.
“The younger demographic [attracted by the market] is more willing to spend their discretionary dollars, and there’s a higher price point for the product that they’re willing to pay,” Chin said. “Prior to this bubble tea phenomenon, you can get a cup of coffee for 80 cents, but bubble tea houses [charge up to] $4. They’ve created this whole new product line price point for Chinatown, which is good for the economy.”
Will Night Market return to Chinatown in the future?
Night Market Chinatown is this year’s last market of the season, and has acted as a flagship or staple market for The Food Trust.
“We started doing Night Markets by thinking about and researching different Asian cultures that have these great night markets,” Minkus said. “We loved how it felt in Chinatown and we kept coming back.”
The locations for next year have not yet been decided — that will come by the end of this year — but don’t be surprised if you don’t see Chinatown on the list this time around.
“Ultimately, our goal is to do an event with a community partner and they take what they learn and do it on their own,” Minkus said. “It’s possible, since we’ve done it a few times with PCDC that by next year, they have enough knowledge to do it on their own.”
This year’s Night Market Chinatown will be held from 7-11 p.m. on 10th and Race streets. Click here for more information.
Up to $60,000 has to be raised in order to hold the event in Chinatown, and it’s achieved, in large part, through vending fees and sponsorships.
Thursday’s Night Market is hosted by The Food Trust in partnership with PCDC. Its sponsor is Green Mountain Energy.
Read another article about Chinatown Night Market from the Business Journal: Chinatown draws thousands as Night Market season comes to a close (Video)
Image by Francis Hilario for the Business Journal
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