Community members and event organizers are shocked and disappointed that a popular event that attracts thousands to Chinatown to celebrate Chinese New Year was canceled at the last minute due to a lack of vendors.
The Chinatown Merchants Association’s “Night in Chinatown” festival and parade is considered the main event to ring in the Chinese New Year. This is the first time the association has canceled both the festival and parade in about 20 to 25 years, according to event coordinator Gifford Chang.
Organizers recalled the parade was previously canceled once before due to inclement weather.
The annual festival and parade that had been scheduled for Saturday before its abrupt cancellation attracts about 15,000 to 20,000 residents and tourists who converge on Chinatown to enjoy live entertainment, lion dancing, and vendor booths selling good luck charms as well as sweet treats and food.
The canceled festival had been scheduled to be held on Maunakea, Smith and Pauahi streets, and the parade had been scheduled to be held that afternoon on Richards Street.
In an email, parade coordinator Denton Chun said, “I was quite disappointed and sad, as everyone on the committee worked hard and tirelessly trying to make it a success.”
Chang sent a letter Tuesday to all participating vendors, entertainers, sponsors and volunteers informing them of the cancellation.
During a phone interview with the Honolulu Star-
Advertiser on Wednesday, Chang said they had only
15 vendors registered for this year’s event. Typically, the event has about 35 to
40 vendors, which Chang said helps offset expenses.
Last year’s Chinese New Year celebration was hampered by wet weather, putting a damper on profits for vendors. Chang said a
$150 increase in the past two years for booth space also contributed to a shortfall in vendor participation this year.
It costs the Chinatown Merchants Association about $65,000 to hold the festival and parade. Special-
duty police officers, print and radio announcements to promote the event, electricity, generators, portable toilets, sound systems, stage equipment and insurance are among the event costs.
To help reduce expenses, the city increased its in-kind support services of police officers to about $60,000 for this year’s event compared to about $45,000 last year.
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell described the event as a “signature event” that helped revitalize Chinatown. He plans to ask his administration to meet with event organizers to discuss ways on how they can help keep it going in the future.
The Night in Chinatown event is charged with energy with people filling the streets and sidewalks to watch lion dancing, Caldwell said during an interview Wednesday with the Star-
Advertiser. During the celebration, many venture to their favorite food booth, art shop, clothing store or restaurant.
“This is an important event that needs to continue,” he added.
An insert published in Wednesday’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser featuring the upcoming festivities to ring in the Chinese New Year included a message from Caldwell, who encouraged the public to go to Chinatown to participate in the celebration.
The message was printed a day before Chang sent the letter late Tuesday to participating vendors and volunteers notifying them that the event was canceled.
In the letter, Chang said: “In previous years, there were Hawaii Tourism Authority and City and County grants that we got to offset increasing costs. However, such monies are not available today or, if available, come with restrictions and conditions which our organization does not meet.”
Normally, organizers said they would receive a rush of booth vendors who register to participate at the last minute in the days leading up to the event. But this year, that didn’t happen.
A 10-foot-by-10-foot craft booth costs a vendor $625 on either Maunakea or Pauahi Street and $450 for a booth on Smith Street. The cost rises to up to $1,600 for vendors seeking larger spaces and additional booths.
For food and drink booths, it costs vendors $950 on Maunakea or Pauahi Street and $600 on Smith Street. The cost increases to up to $2,200 for larger spaces and additional booths.
Expenses for vendors mount for features such as a corner space, which is an extra $200, or for renting equipment such as a tent for a 10-by-10-foot space for $175 or a hand-wash sink set for $100.
An additional $200 cleanup deposit fee also is imposed on each vendor.
Chang said donations were sought from merchants in Chinatown but there was a lack of support.
“We do events in Chinatown for one reason: to bring business to Chinatown for the merchants,” he said.
The organization did receive donations outside of Chinatown, but they weren’t enough to defer some of the event costs.
Chu Lan Shubert-Kwock, president of the Chinatown Business and Community Association, said a number of merchants were unable to donate to help support the event because they are struggling to keep their businesses afloat ever since the city installed traffic bulb-outs in Chinatown.
“They couldn’t donate. They could hardly make rent or pay employees,” Shubert-Kwock said.
The bulb-outs, she added, adversely impacted some businesses because it replaced parking spaces alongside roads where motorists would make a quick stop to pick up a lei or gift.
Though the festive block party and parade has been canceled, residents and visitors still can celebrate Chinese New Year at the Chinatown Cultural Plaza this weekend.
The Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii, a separate organization, is still holding its annual Chinese New Year’s celebration at the cultural plaza located at 100 N. Beretania St. on Friday from 5 to 10 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to
More than 30 vendors, including food and craft booths, will be featured at the event. Live entertainment and lion dancing also will take place.
The celebrations at the cultural plaza are being held a week before the Chinese New Year, which is on