Feb. 1, 2024 By Seán Ó Briain
The Long Island City Partnership (LICP) launched its annual Lunar New Year business festival Wednesday at the newly-opened Red Sorghum restaurant on Jackson Avenue.
The event marks the beginning of a month-long LIC Lunar New Year celebration honoring the area’s rapidly growing Asian population and saluting the Year of the Dragon.
More than 80 local businesses will take part in the festival, which will take place throughout the month of February.
Council Member Julie Won, NYC Small Business Services Commissioner Kevin Kim, Chinese Cultural Center Executive Director Ying Yen, and several local business owners were among those in attendance at Red Sorghum, which opened at 28-03 Jackson Ave. in mid-January.
The restaurant specializes in Hunan Cuisine and Wednesday’s event featured a Hunan and Szechuan cooking demonstration in addition to a short cocktail making demonstration using Baijiu, a Chinese white liquor typically consumed around Lunar New Year.
The event also featured a traditional water sleeve dance performance and concluded with a ceremonial lion dance “blessing” of several local businesses ahead of the new year.
Won, who is originally from South Korea and is the first Asian-American to hold the 26th Council District seat, said Wednesday that Long Island City boasts the fastest-growing Asian population in New York City, stating that it has increased by 33 percent since the 2010 census.
“We have more than 50 Asian-American businesses in Long Island City alone, that’s not accounting for all the businesses coming up in Sunnyside, Woodside and Astoria,” Won said.
Won added that she hopes the LICP Lunar New Year celebrations becomes a mainstay in Long Island City and said the event has grown significantly since its inaugural event in 2022.
“We’re not only doing it annually, but it’s also getting bigger. This is now going on for multiple days.”
The Lunar New Year Festival celebrates the beginning of the year for those who follow the lunar calendar. It is one of the most important celebrations in many East Asian countries and is a major celebration around the world.
Won said she was pleased that the celebrations are no longer known as “Chinese New Year” because dozens of Asian countries follow the lunar calendar.
The festival, now in its third year, features promotions from a number of local businesses, with dozens of bars and restaurants offering limited-edition menu items.
For instance, City Acres Market at 29-18 Queens Plaza, will be hosting a month-long promotion of Asian culinary items, while Partners Coffee has released its limited-edition Black Sesame Cold Brew Latté.
LICP President Laura Rothrock additionally noted that over 15 local businesses are participating in the festival by offering “red envelopes” containing mystery prizes to customers. The promotion acknowledges the East Asian tradition of giving ten red-colored envelopes to friends and family to mark the New Year.
Rothrock added that there will be dozers of family-friendly and children’s events taking place in Long Island City throughout February as part of the festival in addition to “unique craft experiences and wellness sports”.
“We believe that the LIC Lunar New Year celebration will become a seminal event in the neighborhood and one that provides measurable economic impact for small businesses. I think it already has,” Rothrock said Wednesday.
Commissioner Kim heralded the growth of API (Asian Pacific Islander) small businesses in Long Island City, adding that the neighborhood was the “perfect place” to celebrate Lunar New Year.
“Long Island City is attracting more Asian Americans than any other neighborhood in the city and that’s exciting,” Kim said. “Queens is the cultural center of the universe.”
He pointed to the recent opening of Red Sorghum, which offers cuisine from a specific part of China.
“They’ve got a very specific focus on Baijiu for example and they’re doing so many creative things around something that’s fairly common in China but it’s exposing a whole new world and culture to Long Island City and other New Yorkers.”
He added that there has been significant growth in small businesses since Mayor Eric Adams took office, stating that one out of every six small businesses currently operating in New York has opened during the Adams administration.
Kim said it was a “source of pride” that 23% of the 200,000 small businesses in New York City are Asian-owned.
“Asian Americans are contributing to the vibrancy of this city with small businesses,” Kim said. “I want to really celebrate all of the API small business owners.”