NEW YORK — May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
One startup is literally “capturing” the essence of it in the Tri-State Area, and as CBS2’s Lisa Rozner reported Monday it’s all in an effort to support local businesses.
In the heart of Manhattan’s Chinatown, photographer Lucas Zhao takes portraits of Kris Kuo. She runs Taiwan Bear House on Pell Street, a street she wasn’t sure during the height of the pandemic in 2020 would come back to life.
“I remember at that time on Pell Street there’s only two restaurants still open and the streets are all empty,” Kuo said.
But now, tourists are starting to return.
Kuo immigrated from Taiwan and opened her restaurant in 2015. She estimates foot traffic is only 60 to 70 percent of what it used to be, but the on demand photography service Shoott is hoping to change that by literally putting on display the beautiful backdrops of AAPI communities.
During AAPI Heritage Month, the company, lead by Asian Americans, is holding photo sessions in 30-minute blocks in Chinatown, Koreatown and Little Manila, as well as across the river in Koreatown in Fort Lee, and Little India in Edison, New Jersey.
“Go support a cultural institution. There’s so many great restaurants run by immigrant-owned businesses,” Shoott co-founder and CEO Jennifer Tsay said.
There’s no sitting fee so clients only pay for the photos they want. Part of the proceeds will go to StopAAPIhate.org, a nonprofit which tracks and responds to incidents of hate against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the U.S.
“Starting with the pandemic, there has been an uptick in violence for the Asian community, so we were thinking how can we really support the AAPI community with our business model,” Tsay said.
“Because of the hate crimes, we shorten our business hours,” Kuo added.
The organization Send Chinatown Love says some businesses have suffered revenue losses between 60 and 80 percent during the pandemic.
That’s why the nonprofit connected Shoott with Taiwan Bear House when it wanted to donate a free photo session, taking glamour shots of its signature bento boxes for marketing materials and providing a morale boost.
“I’m very proud of being Taiwanese,” Kuo said.
That’s something that also resonates from behind the lens for Zhao, whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from China.
“The core of it is to remember who we are and to not be ashamed of it and to share that,” Zhao said.