Chinatown gaining traction as destination for students, young professionals

Chinatown gaining traction as destination for students, young professionals

Chinatown is changing.

Its narrow, densely packed streets still are teeming with a unique blend of storefronts filled with exotic produce, herbs and other goods, and it continues to be a vibrant immigrant community – but also present is a new generation of Chinese-Americans and other young hipsters who are shaping what the neighborhood will look like in the future.

Due to its proximity to fashionable areas like SoHo, the Lower East Side, and the Financial District, this traditionally Chinese community is gaining traction as a trendy destination for young professionals and students.

Chinatown, in other words, is becoming more than a magnet for adventurous foodies and tourists.

“It’s very important to have this younger generation come back from the suburbs and move to the community,” said Gigi Li, 35, who chaired the local Community Board 3 from 2012 until July this year.

Li grew up in Long Island but 10 years ago moved into what was formerly her aunt and uncle’s apartment in Chinatown.

“I always knew that if I had the opportunity to live here, I would,” she said.

Wilson Tang, 37, took over as owner of the 96-year-old Nom Wah Tea Parlor at 13 Doyers St. in 2010, which was previously owned by his uncle. He made changes that he said are drawing a much younger clientele, including switching to dim sum from a decades-long tradition of having no menu.

“People are looking for something different in Chinatown now,” he said. “Although I have a foot in both worlds — my father’s generation and the old Chinatown, and my younger generation — I embrace the change. Chinatown needs to evolve to survive.”

It is also an increasingly attractive location for those who want to live in Manhattan but are priced out of other neighborhoods.

“You used to see young people coming into Chinatown to eat and then drink, but they left afterwards,” said Helen Zhang, 27, a publicist who moved into a studio on Pell Street two years ago. “Now those crowds have more people who actually live here. You can tell more people from outside the neighborhood are moving into the neighborhood.”

For those looking to live in Chinatown, much of the available housing stock consists of pre-war walkups concentrated around Mott, Bayard, Pell and Baxter streets.

However, it does also have a handful of newer developments.

At Hester Gardens, a seven-story, 71-unit condo at 158 Hester St. that was completed in 2004, the average sales price is $1,467,027, according to the real estate listings website StreetEasy.

The average sale price at 123 Baxter St., a 23-unit condo built in 2003, is $2,349,886 on the site.

Other structures have been renovated and repurposed, like the Jewish Daily Forward Building at 175 E. Broadway, which was built in 1912 to for the newspaper and was renovated into 30 luxury condos in 2006.

The 11 luxury condos at 136 Baxter St. are in a former machinery warehouse built in 1915.

According to StreetEasy, the median sales price in Chinatown in 2015 was $700,000, up from $574,500 in 2014. The median sales price in all of Manhattan was $910,000 last year, the site found.

However, Chinatown’s rental market is more active than its sales market, as StreetEasy logged just 22 sales listed in the area in 2015, while there were 731 units available for rent.

The median rent in Chinatown last year was $2,600, compared to $3,125 in Manhattan as a whole.

A slew of new, stylish bars and restaurants are capitalizing on Chinatown’s rising popularity.

Apotheke opened in 2008 at 9 Doyers St., a windy, cobblestone side-street, and features apothecary-style cocktails. More recently, Kiki’s opened at 130 Division St. in 2015 and specializes in Greek food.

“The neighborhood is definitely being discovered,” observed Natalia Padilla, a real estate sales broker with Citi Habitats. “People are always looking for the next‘it’ neighborhood and I think Chinatown is just that place.”

Find it:

Chinatown is bound to the north by Hester Street to the west of Essex Street and East Broadway to the east of it and to the south by South Street and the FDR Drive. Its eastern boundary is Montgomery Street, and its western border runs jagged, south to north, from Pearl Street to Worth Street, up Baxter Street, down White Street and up Lafayette Street to Hester.

Patrick McGovern