Vancouver’s Chinatown is using Pokemon Go to attract customers
Vancouver’s Chinatown is exploring new ways to bring more foot traffic to businesses that have been battered by the economic fallout from COVID-19 and the rise of anti-Asian racism.
One idea involves San Francisco-based Pokemon Go game app developer, Niantic, and the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community development (CAPACD), a coalition of mostly U.S. groups that work on behalf of low-income, Asian neighbourhoods.
Businesses, such as Kam Wai Dim Sum and Forum Home Appliances and landmarks like the May Wah Hotel on East Pender Street are getting signed up as “PokeStops” and “PokeGyms” in Niantic’s popular Pokemon Go smartphone app-based game.
When players take their phones to these physical locations, they pick up game points online by clicking on prizes or fighting in battles that become available to them there. The hope is they will linger longer, shop and tell other players about the businesses in the area.
Pokemon Go has been played all over the world since 2016, but it has been working to overcome criticism for not having an equal distribution of PokeStops and PokeGyms between more affluent, white and non-white neighbourhoods in North America.
In July, Niantic and the National CAPACD announced they would help any business in the U.S. or Canada that is owned by Asian entrepreneurs be a sponsored location by waiving Niantic’s usual US $730 a year subscription fee for one year.
Information was translated from English into many Asian languages, including Bengali, simplified and traditional Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Lao, Tagalog and Vietnamese.
A statement said the move recognized that “the severe impacts from the pandemic and rise in hate incidents have made it tremendously challenging for (Asian-owned) business districts to recover.”
Over 200 businesses in areas such as Oakland’s Little Saigon, Long Beach’s Cambodian Town, Little Mekong in St. Paul, Chinatowns in Chicago, Philadelphia and Seattle and the SOMA Pilipinas Filipino heritage district in San Francisco have joined, said Oakland-based Roy Chan, small business senior program manager at the National CAPACD.
“There’s potentially a way to track the amount of increased gaming foot traffic at these businesses by Niantic, but they won’t have that data until late in the year,” said Chan.
So far, around two dozen Vancouver Chinatown businesses are interested in the offer and eight have already had their applications accepted, said Kevin Wong, community engagement coordinator at the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation.
He found out about the program from Andy Yan, director of The City Program at Simon Fraser University.
Susan Liu, co-owner of Kam Wai, was already an enthusiastic Pokemon Go player herself, even though she “only has one account.”
Some customers, who are aficionados with several accounts, are really excited that their dim sum business is now a PokeStop and maybe they will come more often, she said.
One woman picking up frozen dumplings “was at the till, and trying to put her Pokemon into the gym, and telling her husband, ‘you pay!’ ”
Next door, Tracy To of Forum Home Appliances, another long-time Chinatown small business that, like Kam Wai, has transitioned to a second generation of owners, said her brother signed them up to be a PokeStop.
“So people collect what they need for their game, and they look around,” she said. “I think we’re finding a lot of people discovering and rediscovering Chinatown recently.”
Last weekend, the area hosted a well-attended “Light Up Chinatown” festival, stringing outdoor lanterns the way Manhattan’s Chinatown did last winter and drawing crowds to its streets with unique offers and events.
“Because I’m so young, I never truly experienced it before,” said Wong, 29. “I got a nice glimpse of what it could be with all the streets packed with people.”
Other volunteers are preparing for the upcoming Mid-Autumn Festival in late September by building a 10-metre-long “fire dragon” made of straw, hay and burning incense, reviving a tradition not seen in Vancouver since 1975.