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Crowds return to D.C. malls, memorials after shutdown ends

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With the turn of a key and the click of a lock, the District's memorials, monuments and museums were reopened Thursday, welcoming thousands of visitors who'd waited through the 16-day federal shutdown to regain access to the famous sites.

While government workers made their way to their offices, a line of tour buses and clusters of tourists gathered outside the National Air and Space Museum in time for the doors to open at 10 a.m.

"You can tell there's a spirit of enthusiasm," said Museum Director Gen. John R. "Jack" Dailey, who was on hand to welcome visitors. "We're delighted to be open today."

The space museum was one of dozens of sites across the District — and among the many national parks and federal sites across the country — closed by the federal shutdown. Access was cut off to park trails and barricades were placed around entrances to monuments. Even the National Zoo and its popular Panda Cam was closed during the shutdown.

"It was absolutely weird," said Becky Williams of Marion, Ind., of the shuttered city.

She and her husband arrived in town at the beginning of the week and were some of the first visitors to the reopened Air and Space Museum.

"This one is a block from our hotel," the 62-year-old Ms. Williams said. "We're hoping to hit them all."

Bounding through the security check at the museum, Lila Helverson, 56, of Pillager, Minn., cheered a volunteer handing out museum maps and wrapped her in a bear hug.

"We kept saying, 'Please be open, please be open,'" Ms. Helverson said. "We're here through Saturday, and my husband wanted to go here."

Gen. Dailey said the reason for the positive environment was the connection between the museum and its staff.

"The people that work here are emotionally tied to the museum," he said. "It's more than just a job."

Gen. Dailey said the focus would be on its mission to educate, inform and inspire — and to try to accommodate as many school field trips as possible.

Across the Mall at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, students on field trips made their way through the cavernous building.

"It hasn't been that bad," said Dawn Sayre, principal at Hilliard Heritage Middle School, in Hilliard, Ohio, as she made her way through the lobby. "We got to see Gettysburg, and on our drive up we went to Arlington Cemetery. And we walked around to visit the Lincoln Memorial."

The roughly 200 students arrived in the area four days ago and had to make some adjustments to their plans, Ms. Sayre said. In their few remaining hours in the city they stopped at the museum.

"It was supposed to be on the itinerary," she said.

The scope of the shutdown's impact extended much further than federal buildings.

In the District, which was largely open throughout the shutdown, Metro said ridership dropped 22 percent a day after the shutdown began. And the city's lottery had to suspend paying winning ticket holders for several days until the federal government appropriated money to the District.

D.C. Lottery Executive Director Buddy Roogow said that since the payouts stopped Saturday sales dropped about 45 percent, and each day sales have continued to decline.

"We were a hostage to events, but we're happy it ended," Mr. Roogow said. "I think people understood. They were frustrated with the whole situation. Look at the tentacles of this thing. It spread obviously beyond the lottery."

Mr. Roogow said Thursday that already winners were coming forward to claim their prizes, including one for a $10,000 prize, and that sales were returning to normal.

Also seeing better business were the food trucks that serve hungry patrons — among them federal employees and tourists.

Near L'Enfant Plaza, where several federal departments have office buildings, lunch lines were forming well before noon for the dozen trucks parked for curbside business.

Taking orders at Fojol Bros., Drew Hagelin, 26, said even before Thursday's lunch hour rush, business was improving.

"It's been better than previous days that's for sure," Mr. Hagelin said.

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