- The Washington Times - Friday, October 5, 2001

Business did not boom for retailers at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport yesterday.

Some stores did not bother to open.

Even though just a few customers wandered into the shops and restaurants that did open, making money did not seem like the primary objective for the people who work at the 70 businesses in the Arlington airport.

Seeing colleagues again seemed just as important.

"I think everyone is just glad. There is a sense of 'it's good to get back to normal,'" said Jan Vernie, the general manager in charge of three Faber Gifts and Newsstand outlets at Reagan Airport.

Mrs. Vernie is one of more than 10,000 people who work at the airport. Yesterday, they seemed like family members reunited after a long separation. The smile on Mrs. Vernie's face broadened every time an acquaintance from another store walked by her newsstand at the end of terminal B.

"Seeing each other again is nice," she said.

Public officials were anxious to reopen Reagan Airport, which brings an estimated 16 million people to the region each year and generates an estimated $5.3 billion in annual business revenue.

"It's good to see America in business again and returning to normalcy," Sen. George F. Allen, Virginia Republican, told reporters at the airport.

Mrs. Vernie and the friends she has not seen for more than three weeks could not have agreed more.

Despite everyone's hopes, Reagan Airport and the airlines and businesses there may not return to normal anytime soon. Airport officials expected only about 100 planes to take off yesterday, and it is unlikely the number of daily departures will ever match the 792 flights a day from Reagan airport prior to Sept. 11.

But the airport is crawling back to life.

The main terminal was nearly deserted yesterday. Reporters and politicians seemed to outnumber travelers.

The Disney Store had nothing on its shelves, and a piece of paper taped to a metal gate that keeps people out informs passers-by it will reopen Oct. 15. No one has signed the guest book in the airport chapel since Sept. 17. Arriving passengers were cheered by workers from Choice Hotels International, who stood in front of one of Mrs. Vernie's newsstands to hand out yellow buttons that read "Thanks For Traveling."

And a few crates of magazines sit in Mrs. Vernie's newsstand by terminal B waiting to be put on shelves or placed in back rooms with other inventory. Mrs. Vernie and her employees worked long hours since President Bush said Tuesday that Reagan Airport would reopen. Weeks-old magazines had to be returned to the distributor.

Mrs. Vernie estimates her three newsstands lost a combined $100,000. It could have been worse. The newsstands remained open for more than a week after the terrorist attacks, and the stores made a modest number of sales to airport workers. They finally closed about two weeks ago when it was clear they could not outlast the prohibition on flights to and from Reagan Airport.

Mrs. Vernie then went to work at a Faber newsstand at Washington Dulles International Airport for a week and a half, but she was delighted the president reopened Reagan Airport, where she has worked for three years.

She was delighted even though she still remembers looking out of the glass panels at Reagan Airport and seeing the flames rise from the Pentagon after a hijacked plane slammed into the side of the building.

She was delighted even though it took her and 11 others more than 15 hours on Wednesday to empty their shelves of old news and stock them with current issues of hundreds of magazines.

"We took on the Herculean task of restocking the shelves," she said. "It was no small task. We're still tired."

The exhaustion was easier to bear because Reagan Airport has reopened after a 22-day hiatus. It was easier to bear because none of the 25 people who work at her three newsstands had to be laid off.

"I was very optimistic that it would reopen, but I didn't know when," Mrs. Vernie said.

Even though business did not boom yesterday at the newsstands or at any other store, the low hum from the small number of planes and passengers and police at the airport seemed like the beginning of a crescendo. Mrs. Vernie's newsstands will cut back their hours for now because so few planes are using Reagan Airport, and it is unclear when her stores will experience the business they had before the attacks.

"This is about the number of customers we expected with the amount of flights going out of here," Mrs. Vernie said. "We're looking forward to getting back where we were. It will be a few weeks."

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