- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 29, 2001

Maybe it's OK to dance and drink again.

At least that's what customers are telling many businesses. Patronage to nightclubs, brew pubs, movie theaters and bowling alleys is on the rebound since taking an initial hit after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"There's clearly going to be a return to normal," said Seamus Houston, marketing director for the Downtown DC Business Improvement District Corp. "The couple of places I went to last weekend were rocking."

Business owners say it may take months or longer before things are fully back to normal. But, they say the increase in foot traffic and money spent has been dramatic in the past week, particularly at places where people can socialize.

"This week has started to pick up," said Steve Winterling, a chef a Capitol City Brewing Co. near Union Station. "There are a lot more big groups of people." He thinks there is a greater sense of togetherness now, as a result of the attacks.

Movie theaters, where people pay money to watch a big screen and little socializing occurs, hope three new releases this weekend will kick some energy into what one theater spokesman called "a flat month."

But, said Muvico spokesman Jim Lee, "it feels like things are changing."

Nightclub owners said they expect business to be close to normal this weekend. At PollyEsthers nightclub in the District, visitors were down 75 percent the first weekend following the attacks but increased to about 80 percent of normal last weekend, according to manager Gary Ouelette.

"If we follow that line, we should be OK," Mr. Ouelette said. "After the initial weekend, the locations in downtown took a huge hit, but it jumped up very quick in the week following. If I had to guess, I'd say by the weekend we'll be back to normal."

Mr. Ouelette said PollyEsthers has excited clubgoers by playing patriotic music, including Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the U.S.A." and Whitney Houston's version of the "Star Spangled Banner."

Family-oriented entertainment establishments have actually fared well since the attacks, many business owners say. In the week following the attacks, consumers spent $156 million on video and DVD rentals, up 30 percent over the similar week last year. The trend continued last week, with $144 million in video and DVD rentals, up 20 percent over the similar week in 2000.

Observers say that in this time of uncertainty, being with friends and family is priority No. 1.

That feeling has helped the bowling industry flourish.

Jack Kelly, chief executive officer of the Bowling Proprietors Association of America, said he met with 11 operators of small bowling centers yesterday, and they told him weekend business is up 15 percent.

"People say, 'Hey, the weekends are the best weekends I've ever had,'" Mr. Kelly said. "I feel a little bit of guilt. I don't think you want to be the one to say 'Hey, I wasn't affected.'"

Mr. Kelly said bowling has always been a sport that fuels a sense of appreciation for family and community, something that has taken off since the attacks.

"We've been particularly family-oriented," Mr. Kelly said. "Bowling is local. Bowling is safe. Bowling is family."

And with the initial shock of the attacks now wearing off, business officials say people have been extra eager to go out and have a good time.

"The sense I get was that people are partying harder than they normally would," Mr. Houston said.

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