Tacoma rang the Year of the Monkey with a bang Saturday as lion dancers, the Lincoln High School Drum Line and traditional Vietnamese dancers marked a short parade through the Lincoln Business District.
An occasional light sprinkle did not dampen the spirits of hundreds who welcomed the return of the Lunar New Year celebration, a gathering that had been absent from the largely Vietnamese community for five years.
Lion dancers from Seattle moved from storefront to storefront through the district. The giant, expressive heads bobbed with the music and the sinewy bodies weaved amid the deafening reports of strings of firecrackers throughout the neighborhood.
Lan Dang, owner of Hồng Lan Fashion on Yakima Ave., said her business had a rocky start even before she served her first customer four years ago. Her fashion and beauty products store was broken into three months before it opened.
“It was a very suppressed, quiet, sad area,” Dang said through her daughter, Lynn Phan. Times have changed. Now “it’s quiet and there’s not much trouble here.”
Her family moved to Tacoma from California about 12 years ago in search of a better life, Phan said.
For the new year, Dang hopes business goes well, for good health and “for happiness to spread.”
Her third wish was off to a good start.
The lion dancers moved down Yakima Avenue, trailed by dozens of admirers.
The head of the dragon then reached up to pluck a head of lettuce and red envelopes from the eave of each store — an offering for the powerful spirit in hopes it would grant good luck to the store owner in the new year. It then crossed the threshold to bring luck to the store.
Kevin Le, owner of Vien Dong restaurant, said the Lunar New Year is like Christmas, where families spend time together and exchange gifts. The return of the festival is “a very big deal for us.”
Le passed out red envelopes filled with small amounts of money to customers in his crowded restaurant. As a lion dancer moved to each table, patrons passed the envelope to its head. Some small children seemed apprehensive of the lion dancer, who assuaged fears by lifting the giant head to reveal the person beneath.
25 number of store owners in the Lincoln District who hung firecrackers to ring in the Lunar New Year
In all, 25 store owners hung firecrackers at their doorsteps. The city of Tacoma contributed around $10,000 to bring the festival back. The return of the Lunar New Year celebration coincides with a city initiative to spruce up the Lincoln District.
Most attendees were residents or family of business owners in the neighborhood, though some came from afar to see the spectacle.
Rob Girvin frequently travels from the Stadium District to dine at Vien Dong. The Lunar New Year celebration provided another reason for him to stop by.
“Developing the ethnic community is a real asset for Tacoma,” Girvin said. “This is going to be a growing part of town.”
Bee Nguyen, 22, drove from Lynnwood to visit her family here and attend the festival. This year’s Lunar New Year was sparse compared to those she remembered from several years ago. Back then, throngs of people filled the block.
Comparatively, this was a rather small gathering. Food vendors were not there this year, but several store owners said they hoped future festivals would entice more people to visit the growing international district.
Dustin Luu, who owns Imperial Dragon on Sixth Avenue and whose brother owns Hong Kong Supermarket in the district, said the community wants to build on Saturday’s festival. Store owners here work hard and are sometimes reluctant to take time away from their businesses to coordinate the Lunar New Year festival, he said.
Next year, he predicted, the street food will return — and with it, the crowds.
“This is what we need for Tacoma,” Luu said.