Repeat break-ins disrupt restaurants, small businesses in Chinatown
Updated: Feb 7
In a challenging year, Chinatown restaurant Asian Garden suffered four break-ins in 2021. While the incidents took place after hours and no one was hurt, the incidents disturbed staff.
Asian Garden owner Ka Wa Fong (香滿園老闆方嘉樺) said, “They stole cash from our cash register, took two cases of beer and our karaoke system in the basement … Since we installed an alarm system, it has been better.”
On Kneeland Street, Moon Flower House owner Mr. Liu (月花坊老闆劉先生) dealt with three incidents. “One time, someone broke in overnight and took our cash,” he said. “Another time, while we were busy, the cases of soda by our door were taken. And a third time, someone came to the cash register and robbed us.”
Liu has security cameras installed and police were able to identify one individual, who was arrested.
Boston officials and the police did a walk-through earlier in the year, identifying an unhoused individual with mental illness as the person who broke into several stores. Melissa Lo, from the Office of District 2 City Councilor Ed Flynn (波士頓市第二區市議員愛德華費林的助理盧善柔), said he was held for 10 days in an institution, then was released on bail.
“People are unwell, they need shelter, mental health, addiction services,” Lo said. “People have died from overdoses in the back alleys.”
While restaurants generally have not seen increased rates of crime, there have been incidents of vandalism, said Steve Clark, Massachusetts Restaurant Association vice president of government affairs. A good restaurant runs at a profit margin of about 6 percent to 8 percent, with rising food prices and labor costs eating into profit.
“It's hard enough to run a restaurant,” Clark said. “Any loss through criminal activity is even more demoralizing.”
Best practices for restaurants are investing in security and limiting cash on hand, Clark said.
Chinatown's downtown area is monitored by several surveillance cameras connected to the police network, which were paid for by the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association of New England (紐英倫中華公所) in 2016 and 2019. CCBA members include family associations and community organizations.
“When you’re a small business, it’s traumatizing,” said Susan Chu, CCBA executive director (中華公所行政主任朱蘇珊).
Violent crime and property crime is down 15 percent to 20 percent for Boston, following a downward trend for the past 10 to 15 years, said Boston Police District A-1 Captain Robert Ciccoli. Several shoplifting incidents escalated into robbery incidents when the perpetrator threatened shop owners.
“These are public health issues; when they result in violence, it becomes a police problem,” Ciccoli said.
Ciccoli added officers worked with clinicians and the Department of Mental Health to refer individuals into treatment at hospitals.
Fong of Asian Garden did not feel like his restaurant was targeted as an Asian business, as several other local businesses were also broken into. He expressed frustration over getting a copy of a police report for insurance, which required him to take four trips over five days between the Boston Police District A-1 office and police headquarters in Roxbury.
“It’s no use reporting to police and elected officials,” Fong said. “I see the perpetrator back out on the street.”
While crime has tapered off with the cold weather, it is disheartening for businesses.
“The restaurant industry is a home to immigrants,” Clark said. “To have levels of society target them is bad. It’s heartbreaking.”