- - Sunday, August 5, 2012

LONDON — With all the gold, silver and bronze handed out in London, business should be booming in the British capital. But all that glitters at the Olympic Games in East London is not shining on the rest of the city.

London residents, shop owners and even taxi drivers were braced for a crush of business. Commuters were so concerned about gridlock in this sprawling metropolis nearly 10 times larger than Washington that many stayed home or staggered their trips to work.

During some rush hours, the normally bustling London Underground was nearly deserted. Those who did take the subway in parts of Central London were greeted by the recorded voice of Mayor Boris Johnson, warning them about the effects of congestion.

“It’s my first time in an Olympic city,” said Evan Lee, who came from Hawaii to see her sister compete in the volleyball tournament for Team USA.

“I thought London was going to be busier. The Olympic Park is busy, but other than that, it is quiet.”

In a period of weak economic growth and austerity measures, London merchants hoped the Olympics would provide much-needed revenue. But restaurants are suffering from empty tables. The streets are empty, and some of London’s top tourist attractions are slashing prices.

The crowds are down even at London’s famous landmarks, such as Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden and the Tate modern art gallery.

At the National Theater, visitor numbers are about the same as last year.

“We’re about as busy as usual,” one staff member said. “[It is] a slightly different demographic, bit more international, more people draped in flags, but our numbers have fluctuated more with the weather than with the Olympics.”

Natalie Briggs, who runs a bookstall under Waterloo Bridge, said, “Our [sales] are down from last year, and our rent has gone up by 20 percent because of the Olympics and the [queen’s] Jubilee.”

Queen Elizabeth is marking her 60th anniversary on the throne.

The hoopla surrounding both events raised hopes of shop owners and taxi drivers.

“It hasn’t lived up to expectations,” said Emmanuel Akia, a London cabbie. “A lot of people have been disappointed, but it is only the end of the first week. There is still time.”

Mr. Johnson said the economic benefits of the Olympics have been “patchy.”

Cem Canpolat, an assistant manager at Tas Restaurant near Waterloo Station, said his company, which has restaurants around London, has had mixed results.

“We are fine, not busier, not quieter. We have a restaurant near the British Museum, and they are empty. But in Canary Wharf, they are much busier than usual,” he said in reference to the East London financial district near the games.

Many business owners were angered even before the games opened July 27 because of the so-called “brand police.” Olympics organizers cautioned businesses around London against linking themselves to the games.

A list of banned words – including “summer,” “London” and even “2012” – was issued with a warning that certain combinations used on promotions or advertisements likely would result in legal action.

Colin Stanbridge, director of the London Chamber of Commerce, remains optimistic that the city will receive a bounce from the games, which end Sunday.

“In some places, they are already seeing the economic benefit, and if this Olympics follows the pattern of other Games, then we will start to see more and more people in the center of the city,” he said.

There are signs that some visitors are venturing out of the Olympic Park. The London transportation bureau reported that Thursday was the busiest day ever on the London Underground, with more than 4 million passengers.

Jeremy Hunt – secretary of state for culture, media and sports – predicted that London would benefit in the long run from the Olympics.

“Having the games in London is the best possible publicity [we] could hope for,” he told reporters. “London is already one of the world’s great cities, but these games have made it iconic.”

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