Burnaby's Crystal Mall vendors say coronavirus rumours decimated revenues by 80%

Politicians lunch at mall to show solidarity with merchants.

Holmes and Valery Wang have run Malay Curry House at the Crystal Mall food court successfully for three years and on Kingsway before that but today, they are struggling.

“It’s tough,” Holmes told the NOW. “Our revenue decreased anywhere north of 80% literally.”

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The mall has suffered a severe decline in customers since a number of rumours were spread on Chinese-language social media sites regarding businesses there, rumours that employees had novel coronavirus, or that customers had recently arrived from China and were staying in Canada because they weren’t allowed in the United States or Australia.

“Friends will send me texts saying, ‘I heard this about Crystal Mall, is it true?’ I say, ‘it’s absolutely not true,’” Holmes said.

The rumours began in December, according to Holmes, and he has been fighting them ever since.

Politicians from three levels of government gathered at Crystal Mall on Friday to show their support for businesses there, to have lunch and tour the shopping plaza that has been at the centre of online rumours since the onset of novel coronavirus.

Crystal Mall Food Court
Empty: The Crystal Mall food court in Burnaby has seen an 80% decrease in customers since rumours regarding the novel coronavirus spread online. - Janaya Fuller Evans

The rumours have cost Holmes’ business significantly. He’s lost $15,000 to $20,000 in revenue per month, he said.

“I can barely pay our rent. I’m paying out of my pocket for my labour, for my sous chef,” he said, adding his wife runs the front. “As much as we’re prepared it’s a hit, regardless.”

 Holmes and Valery require those working at the restaurant to wear masks, he pointed out.

“So when clients come over, they have peace of mind,” he said. “There’s a psychological effect.”

The restaurant also keeps the curtain to the kitchen open, so customers can see its a clean operation, and it also undergoes regular inspections.

One problem for restauranteurs is that there isn’t an opportunity to recoup losses by catching up, as is possible in manufacturing, Holmes pointed out.

“You can’t ask people to eat six meals a day afterwards, they still eat three meals a day,” he said.

While they hope things will clear up, the Wangs know it won’t happen quickly. Two months ago, Holmes told Valery, “We have enough to last six to eight months, we’ll be OK.”

On Friday, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix spoke of his love for the mall, saying he goes there often for lunch.

He also spoke about the importance of facts when it comes to health.

“What we’re asking you to do today is to join with us in an effort to get the right information out, the information that tells you what the risks are and how you can protect yourself,” Dix said.

Washing hands is the most important way to protect oneself from any illness, he said, adding people should sneeze into their arm and then wash their hands, and throw out tissues, and not touch their faces.

“What we can also do is to condemn and reject rumour-mongering,” he said.

Politicians on hand included NDP MP Peter Julian, NDP MLAs George Chow and Raj Chouhan, and Burnaby Mayor Mike Hurley, as well as a number of members of Burnaby council.

Coun. James Wang was on hand and said he himself was a victim of the rumours being spread online, as people shared comments he had made regarding someone who he said had returned from Wuhan, the Chinese city where the novel coronavirus first surfaced.

 There have been six cases of COVID-19, or novel coronavirus, diagnosed in B.C. One patient has recovered and left voluntary quarantine since being diagnosed.

 

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