Saturday, November 24, 2001

It would have been tough to convince retail sales clerks at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport that yesterday was one of the biggest shopping days of the year.

“Kind of slow here,” said a sales clerk at the Smithsonian Museum Store in Reagan Airport’s Terminal B as he stocked shelves.

Many Thanksgiving travelers already have arrived at their destinations and are not spending time in airports, he said. He expected business to pick up as they return home today and Sunday.

But even then, business probably will be slower than last year.

“It’s expected,” said the sales clerk, who did not want to give his name. “That may have something to do with September 11.”

Only 45 percent of the number of pre-September flights are operating, as the Transportation Department slowly reopens the airport, now the most heavily guarded in the nation. The agency will increase the number of flights after Dec. 10, but did not say by how much.

“The passengers who are there are shopping,” said Tara Hamilton, spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which manages the airport. “It’s as if you took a major shopping center and let only half the number of people through the doors. It’s going to hurt your sales.”

The airport lost $400,000 a day during the 24 days it was closed after the September 11attacks.

Washington Dulles International Airport, however, is operating its normal flight schedules. Retail sales are down only slightly because about 10 percent fewer people are flying, Miss Hamilton said.

Store clerks at Reagan Airport are frustrated at the slow pace of the airport’s reopening.

“I think it should be opened up to 100 percent capacity,” said Clarence Williams, a sales associate at the PGA Tour Shop in Terminal B, which sells golf clothing and equipment. “They’re supposed to have improved security. They got the sky marshals, they got everything in place. They need to get people back and get rolling.”

His sentiments were shared by Eden Negassi, a cashier at the Pen and Prose greeting card and stationery store nearby.

“Yeah, I think so,” she said about the idea of reopening Reagan Airport completely. “Today is too slow. Last year, it was OK.”

Security personnel sympathized with the shopkeeper, but said there was little they could do about the problem.

“It’s a tragedy,” said Staff Sgt. Steven Morris of the Virginia National Guard, as he stood near a metal detector in Terminal A. “As far as I’m concerned, I feel as though we’re doing what we can do, trying to make the public feel more secure.”

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