“We launched the fund-raising website on Nov. 17,” she said. Donations of any size were welcome, but $45 would get someone’s name inscribed in a hanging lantern, and $150 would get the donor a matching paper lantern to take home.
The street lanterns came from Pearl River Mart, the longtime Chinese-American department store, which is relocating its flagship store this year, though it has not announced where.
“We ordered them on Dec. 4,” said Joanne Kwong, the second-generation owner of Pearl River. “Ordinarily a traditional lantern installation would be red, but it just so happens red lanterns were out of stock. I guess people needed a lot of luck this year.”
Mr. Mock persuaded more than a dozen volunteers to work alongside lighting professionals (some stayed until 3 in the morning) one night to help hang the lanterns. Inspired by the elaborate outdoor dining setup at Buddakan, which is part of Chelsea Market, Ms. Kwong set up a station to dip each of the 250 lanterns in a polyurethane mixture to protect them from the elements.
Pearl River Mart has a location at Chelsea Market, and Ms. Kwong asked the owner of Buddakan what made its lanterns so hardy. (Nylon, the material from which the lanterns are made, is waterproof. The glue that holds the parts together is not.) The restaurant owner happily passed on the urethane formula, and the Mott Street lanterns stood up to their first test: a Christmas Eve storm that left hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers without power.
For Mr. Mock, the greatest challenge was convincing the members of the older Chinatown organizations that lights could bring real change. It helped that a public confrontation with Mayor Bill de Blasio, in which Mr. Mock implored the mayor to do more to help rescue Chinatown, went viral after a New York Post reporter, Elizabeth Meryl Rosner, posted a video of the incident on Twitter.
The old-timers of Chinatown, never very demonstrative, seem to approve. Mr. Mock said it’s hard for people of his parents’ generation to say “I love you.”
“But they do other things,” he added.
“They all try to feed me, they say I don’t eat enough, or I don’t sleep enough. They stop me on the streets. That is their way of saying thank you.”