Washington Businesses Screwed by Tight Security

Tight security and other factors screwed small businesses in Washington this week and many reported some of the worst sales they remember for Inauguration Day.

Taher Aly has sold hot dogs during every inauguration since 1988. Even though he is part of the only vending association who was allowed to stay open, sales were terrible, he said. He had to move his vending stand two blocks up from Pennsylvania Avenue because of security concerns, but was still close to the parade route.

“Believe me, I normally do a lot of sales,” he said. “I guess only rich people don’t like hot dogs.”

Aly partially blamed the heavy security for his lack of business, he said. But, he was glad that everything was under control and he felt secure.

“I’m a street man, I know what’s going on, and I’ve seen some bad times,” he said. “This was smoothly run, they did a great security job.”

On the day after the inauguration, sales still have not improved, he said. People rush around stand during lunch hour, going from the White House to the subway, but do not stop no matter how he tries to engage them.

“I see more people, they just don’t come here,” he said.

A few blocks away, Chapters, an independently owned bookstore, was in the middle of a security zone during Inauguration Day. Even though co-owner Terri Merz could see the crowds a block away watching the parade, no one made it through the blockades to buy a book, she said.

“It was completely dead, nobody could get in, it was like living in a police state,” Merz said. “In the past, we’ve done fine because people could move around freely.”

This is the first time the bookstore was this close to the inauguration, she said. In the past 20 years at a different location, they did much better business both during and after Inauguration Day. Even after the blockades are gone, none of the tourists milling around are coming in either.

“It doesn’t seem like a book buying crowd,” Merz said.

On the other end of the parade route, the 8 Street Deli and Market also had its worst Inauguration Day sales since opening.

“It’s never been like this,” said Mary Soung, the owner. “I could see the protestors, but they could not come in and I guess the Secret Service wasn’t hungry.”

For President George W. Bush’s first inauguration, and the Clinton inaugural, the store made around 500 sandwiches in preparation and sold almost all of them. This time, after Soung saw the security barriers start to go up, she said she got a bad feeling and told her employees that they were going to open normally.

“I was ready for everything,” she said. “Then, we had no business. At least I set it up to just take regular orders, so we didn’t lose everything.”

Like Aly and Merz, the extra tourism is not helping either, she said. Soung blames the security, and people’s fears after September 11.

“Before Sept. 11, there used to be big tourist busses that would come, now there is nothing,” she said. “Even today there are no tourists, just regulars.”

Loeb’s Deli, on 15th Street near the White House, did more business than usual, David Loeb reported. They were not in a security area, although close to several.

The family has owned the business since 1959 and has always done well during inaugurations, Loeb said.

“We didn’t know how it was going to be this year, post-Sept. 11, but it was pretty much a normal inauguration,” he said. “You have people all dressed up, protestors dressed like anything you can imagine and police officers who wanted to come in, out of the cold.”

Warm foods and beverages sold the best, because of the cold, as well as Texas-themed items like Texas chili, Loeb said.

“It wasn’t your salad type people,” he said.

The next day brought regular customers back and very few tourists, though business was slower because a lot of people used the inaugural to take a four day weekend, Loeb joked.

“It’s basically a one day shot for us,” he said. “You can’t compare it to any other day.”

Next to the White House, Americana Political, a memorabilia store, has been making some of its best sales ever, according to owner Jim Warlick. They are making 20 times more in sales than during an average week, and judging from past inaugurations, Warlick estimates that sales will stay strong through the Cherry Blossom Festival in the Spring.

“Not everyone could make it for the inauguration, but they’ll want to come later,” Warlick said. “I’ve had to restock every single day and we keep selling.”

Inauguration pins are his best selling item, he said, with warm clothing a close second because of the cold weather.

“Anything with an inaugural logo on it will go,” he said. “Cups, papers, glassware, paper weights, they want it all.”

The only problem the store had during the inauguration was when protestors set an American Flag on fire in front of the store and the police pepper gassed the activists, said Mort Berkowitz who helps in the store only during inauguration and normally sells merchandise outside himself.

“Every time a Republican would come in the spray would come in too,” Berkowitz said. “My eyes are still red.”

The next day the line to buy merchandise was out the door.

“This is much better than Bush’s first inauguration and Clinton’s second,” Warlick said. “Everyone came out. It could be because of how partisan the election was, so they all want to show support now.”

Warlick and Berkowitz joke that they would expand outside, but it is too cold.

“We’re trying to get them to pass an amendment to make the inauguration in July,” Berkowitz said. “Can you imagine how much better that would be?”