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Security efforts irk downtown businesses

(Published October 7, 2002)

By KERRY HOWLEY

Special to The Common Denominator

Businesses neighboring the World Bank and International Monetary Fund say they suffered heavy losses last month when D.C. police blocked off surrounding streets to create a security perimeter for those institutionsí annual meetings.

In anticipation of anti-World Bank/IMF protests, several businesses did not bother to open on Sept. 27. Others waited out a slow day of business.

"We lost two days and we lost wholesale business as well, because the police actively discouraged tourists from coming into the city," said Mark Furstenberg, owner of The Bread Line, an eatery in the 1700 block of Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

Furstenberg and others expressed frustration that potential customers were prevented from entering the streets closest to the World Bank.

"I want to do business. I want to sell to protesters and I want to sell to police," Furstenberg said.

Police began blocking off the area immediately around the World Bank on Thursday, Sept. 26. Most businesses in the area werenít affected until Friday the 27th, however, when D.C. police expanded the restricted area well beyond the World Bankís immediate perimeters and allowed only residents and employees to enter. A Metropolitan Police Department statement cited "prevailing conditions" as reason for the closures.

Some businesses seemed resigned to the lost revenue. This was the third year in which D.C. police created restricted "security zones" to shelter international financial representatives attending the meetings from protesters.

Will Whitmer, manager of Sterling Optics, kept his store open on Friday despite the protests.

"It really wasnít that bad. I lost maybe four to five hundred dollars," he said.

At Franco and Bernard Hair Studio next door, Frank DelBorrello chose to close his shop rather than sit in an empty studio.

"We tried to be open last year," he said, "but it was a waste of time. We could come in, but they didnít let our clients come through."

DelBorrello and others said they have similar problems when streets are blocked for other planned events, such as presidential inaugurations. During this yearís protests, however, the police chose to block off several sections of 17th Street, a noticeable extension of their usual policy.

Susan Compton, a third-generation owner of Comptonís Jewelers, was asked not to keep her shop open by the managers of the building complex in which it is located. However, she would have closed anyway, she said, because the extended barriers would have made it difficult to do business.

"Last year we were open, and we did business," said Compton, "but this time they blocked 17th street."

She added, "Business has been slow since 9-11 anyway."

Not everyone lost out over the weekend.

Wall Street Deli capitalized on the situation by cooperating with the D.C. government, according to a manager there. The deli was closed to business on Friday, but worked for the city to provide hundreds of boxed lunches to D.C. police.

"We actually made more on Friday than we would have in a week," the manager said.

Proprietors who faced losses differed on their opinion of who was to blame.

Furstenberg said he believes the barricades were unnecessary.

"No protester shut us down. It is only the police who stop business," he said. "I donít want the protesters to go away. This is democracy Ė itís their right to be here."

DelBorrello was more wary of the crowds. He said the protestors "seemed like they were mean."

"In previous years, this was the safest area in the city, [but] what are you going to do? Itís the price you pay for being in this location," he said.

Copyright 2002, The Common Denominator