- The Washington Times - Monday, May 1, 2006

Washington-area businesses with large Hispanic staffs opened late or with fewer employees than normal yesterday to allow participation in a national effort to show the economic importance of immigrants.

Rosa Mexicano on Seventh Street Northwest opened at 4 p.m. instead of 11:30 a.m. in a compromise reached with employees: Participate in the immigration rallies during the day and work in the evening.

“We wanted to give our employees an opportunity to express what they believe in,” said Louis Alvarez, regional director of operations at Rosa Mexicano Restaurants. “It’s a compromise because we still have to run a business.”

Mr. Alvarez said he supported the employees’ opinions and did not want to threaten to fire them if they stayed home. The staff held a family-style dinner before the restaurant reopened.

About 70 employees staff the restaurant on Mondays. Sixty percent of the day’s business is at lunch and another 40 percent is at dinner, he said.

The chain’s restaurants in New York and Atlanta operated during normal hours yesterday, Mr. Alvarez said.

“Here in D.C., the staff is more political,” he said.

“Day Without Immigrants” was designed to demonstrate the effect of immigrants on the U.S. economy and to protest congressional legislation that would crack down on illegal immigration. The boycott lost momentum after several immigrant groups suggested trying less drastic action, such as lobbying.

“The majority of us came here to work to support our children,” said Oscar, a 27-year-old Falls Church resident originally from Guatemala. He refused to give his last name.

As he loaded groceries into his car at Seven Corners shopping center, he said he was taking a day off his job as a construction worker “to support the majority of immigrants.”

Without immigrants, “the economy of this country would fall apart,” said Mary Roman, his wife, who is a U.S. citizen raised in Puerto Rico. She works as a house cleaner.

“We work for less money but more work,” she said.

At Regional Food and Drink Washington on Seventh Street Northwest, eight of the 24 employees scheduled to work yesterday requested time off to participate in the boycott, manager Jeff Jurewicz said. Other employees were able to cover the shift, so he allowed everyone who wanted to participate in the events to do so.

“We gladly gave them off,” Mr. Jurewicz said. “It’s not like they’re going out boozing. It’s something that they believe in.”

Jaleo, a Spanish tapas restaurant on Seventh Street Northwest, posted a sign on its door to tell patrons it would open at 4 p.m. instead of 11:30 a.m. Management at Jaleo’s parent company did not return calls for comment.

Todito Grocery on Columbia Road in Adams Morgan was closed in the morning but planned to open in the afternoon.

“Todito Grocery has diverse nationalities working for our grocery. We stand with our employees who may be affected by these proposed changes [in immigration law],” a sign on the door read.

Some retailers said employees who participated in the boycott left them short on staff.

“We only have one cook tonight,” said Samantha Giron, manager of the Uno Chicago Grill at Seven Corners Center. The second cook who normally works Mondays, along with a dishwasher, took the day off.

“They basically said they need to support their race and this issue,” Miss Giron said.

About 40 percent of the Seven Corners area’s population is Hispanic. At the nearby Off Broadway Shoe Warehouse, five of the 19 employees participated in the boycott.

“I’m not mad because they requested off two weeks ago,” said store manager Claudia Urquida, who is from Bolivia. “I’m legal, but maybe if I was illegal I would agree,” she said about the immigration status of protesting workers.

Most other Seven Corners retailers said they noticed no difference in their business from the immigrant boycott.

“Today was a normal selling day for us,” said Silas Mitchell, manager of the Sears department store at 6211 Leesburg Pike in Falls Church.

Cafe Atlantico, on Eighth Street Northwest, operated on a normal schedule and with a typical number of employees requesting the day off.

“Today is pretty much a normal day,” manager Juan Jimenez said.

Representatives at Marriott International Inc. and the Fairmont Hotel said employees either requested the day off in advance or showed up for work.

“Anybody who wanted to take off, we accommodated their requests in advance,” Marriott spokeswoman Laurie Goldstein said.

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