- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 14, 2001

Grainy footage of bomb-pocked air bases and terrorist training camps in Afghanistan have replaced the apocalyptic images of lower Manhattan on television. The sports world's autumn frenzy is in full swing. And Americans if a bit nervously again are making travel plans and booking flights.
In so many ways, despite the anthrax scares of recent days, everyday life has marched relentlessly forward from Sept. 11. But the metropolitan Washington area so dependent on the spending of out-of-towners is grappling with the economic aftershocks of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The District didn't exactly become a ghost town. Those who don't work or live here stayed away in droves, however, sapping life and dollars from tourist and entertainment attractions.
So Mayor Anthony A. Williams and other D.C. officials spearheaded a promotion this weekend to lure folks back to shop, eat, play, see the sights and, most importantly, spend. Dubbed "Be a Tourist in Your Hometown," it includes free rides on Metro's bus and rail systems, as well as discounts at venues all over.
The free rides and other promotions seemed to pay off yesterday, judging by the crowds visiting museums and eating in downtown restaurants.
Cody Lee, 20, and Matt Hempstead, 20, took the Metro to Union Station from College Park after a roommate at the University of Maryland told them about the deal.
"We have wanted to go to the art museum for a while, and when we heard the Metro was free, that sealed the deal," Mr. Lee said.
The two ate at a Chinese restaurant after visiting the National Gallery of Art and the Air and Space Museum.
"The fact that the city is offering these discounts is definitely attracting people and might be helping them feel safe again," Mr. Hempstead said. "We wouldn't be out here if the fares weren't free."
Projected ridership on the Metro yesterday was 285,000, up 7 percent from the comparable Saturday last year, Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said last night.
About 275,000 riders used the Metro the Saturday before the attacks, Miss Farbstein said, and the number dropped to 189,000 the following Saturday. Ridership grew to 218,000 last Saturday.
"We are hopeful that by allowing people to ride for free this weekend that it does stimulate the economy and get people back into their day-to-day routine," Miss Farbstein said.
The "Be a Tourist in Your Hometown" promotion is one of the District's many efforts to salvage some of the $5 billion generated each year by the hospitality industry. But turning things around quickly won't be easy.
Returning to "normal" is a gradual process, said Glenn Schiraldi, a University of Maryland professor and author of "The Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Sourcebook."
"Right now, it is a little bit like a funeral," Mr. Schiraldi said. "People need a little bit of time to heal, need to ask what we have lost acknowledge that we have lost our sense of safety, the sense that people who live with us and who we think love us can physically harm us."
But local businesses and attractions can't afford to wait for the mourning period to end. They're pulling out the stops to draw crowds at a time that usually bustles with tourists, conventioneers and student tour groups.
Hotels offer discounted rates, promotional packages and incentives because their survival could depend on the response. Hotel occupancy in the city stands at 30 percent when the norm is 80 percent, Mayor Anthony A. Williams told a Senate subcommittee at a hearing Friday.
"Here in the District, we are home to perhaps the greatest targets for terrorist activity in America," Mr. Williams said. "This extra exposure requires greater security measures at the airport, on the streets and at major gatherings, which creates greater concern among people who may decide to live, work or start a business here."

Rooms in the inns
Hotels must be "proactive about their marketing and think outside the box," said Marilyn Matthews, co-owner of Washington, D.C., Accommodations, a hotel reservation service that has logged $200,000 worth of cancellations in the month since the terrorist attacks.
Washington Plaza, a 340-room hotel on Thomas Circle NW, offer D.C. Accommodations customers a $98 package that includes breakfast and free parking. Such incentives are unheard of during the traditionally popular fall season, Miss Matthews said.
The Ritz-Carlton, at 22nd and M streets NW, managed to pull off an occupancy rate approaching 85 percent last week. Although the upscale hotel did not discount rates, it made traveling easier: "Luggage-less travel" permits frequent guests to keep bags at the hotel between stays, while a new menu allows them to eat on the way to the airport.
"Things like that have been well-received," said John Harper, the Ritz-Carlton's director of sales and marketing. "Everyone is looking for something to make traveling easier."
Restaurants this weekend trumpeted promotions such as free desserts with any entree and buy-one, get-one-free deals.
Sholl's Colonial Cafeteria, a 73-year-old eatery at 1990 K St. NW, turned to locals to make up for business lost by canceled tours and student trips. Neighborhood residents handed out Sholl's fliers in their apartment buildings; students took menus to their campuses.
"To stay in business, we need to maintain a minimum number of customers who visit us for breakfast, lunch and dinner," one handout reads. "You can help us to continue in business by eating often at Sholl's and by reminding your friends about Sholl's famous homestyle food and service."
On a typical October weekday, Sholl's serves about 1,000 customers. These days, it's between 600 and 700, which is up from the immediate aftermath of the attacks, manager Van Fleishell said.

The lure of arts
Museums and their restaurants took a serious hit without the steady stream of tourists who account for so much of their business.
Visits to the Smithsonian Institution's museums dropped by 38 percent last month, compared with last year. Tourism did pick up slightly and on Sept. 30, museums on the Mall recorded 32,000 visitors 13,000 more than two weeks earlier.
A few blocks from the Mall, the Corcoran Gallery of Art has drawn 2,000 to 3,000 visitors a week, compared with the typical 4,000 to 7,000.
Although the number of tourists dropped, Corcoran spokeswoman Jan Rothschild said, local residents are turning out for the critically lauded exhibit "In Response to Place: Photographs From the Nature Conservancy's Last Great Places."
"Art has a wonderful way to heal," Miss Rothschild said, and the Nature Conservancy exhibit "is a wonderful replacement in their minds for the images of Sept. 11."
Most theaters were luckier because their patrons tend to be local residents. But Signature Theatre in Arlington had a singular problem.
"We are very near the Pentagon, and some people assumed we were closed when we weren't," spokeswoman Lisa Hanson said. "We were closed the first night, and the rest of the week many people canceled themselves."
At Arena Stage, audiences have grown since the week after the attacks and now almost fill the 662-seat theater in Southwest.
Theaters and museums are among those taking part in this weekend's campaign.
The Kennedy Center cut $10 from the price of tickets to select performances of the tourist-driven show "Shear Madness," which bore the brunt of a dip in attendance at the nation's performing-arts showcase.
The Phillips Collection near Dupont Circle, showing an exhibit of Impressionist still lifes, offered 2-for-1 admission. Other bargains include free admission to a memorial concert tonight by the Washington Symphony Orchestra.

'It makes a statement'
Various promotions and the sunny weather proved a potent combination yesterday, luring lines outside museums and prompting a flurry of footballs and Frisbees on the Mall.
Angie Collins of Baltimore, lounging on a bench along the Mall, said the promotional campaign could encourage "genuine" tourists.
"I am going to travel to New York soon, just because of the cheaper hotels and discounted tickets," Miss Collins said. "I think other people will do the same for D.C."
The lingering threat of more attacks was in the back of her mind, she said, but she didn't think twice about visiting the National Gallery of Art.
"I am in the mind-set that [terrorists] will not stop me from going out and enjoying the day," Miss Collins said. "It makes me feel good to see people are not hiding with their gas masks, they are out enjoying the museums. People coming out and showing support is opposite of what the terrorists want."
Rhonda Daniels and Hal Matson of Bethesda toured museums and outdoor exhibits yesterday afternoon. They, too, said the campaign was a good idea to get people out and about.
"It really makes a statement," Mr. Matson said.
Some theaters, hoping to do more than help people escape the new reality for a few hours, are lining up benefits.
Arena Stage added a benefit performance of "Eleanor: Her Secret Journey" for Nov. 3, with proceeds going to the families of those killed or injured in the attack on the Pentagon.
Signature Theatre and the Kennedy Center plan a joint benefit this fall to honor victims of the attacks. "We also want to let people know that we're still here," Signature's Miss Hanson said.

Night life
Compared with more tourism-dependent venues, night life in the District has a relatively strong pulse.
Many bars and clubs in town closed for one or two nights after the attacks, and it took another week for business to pick up at some spots.
But plenty of company-hungry Washingtonians chose to eat, drink, listen to music and bond with old and new friends.
Dante Ferrando, owner of the Black Cat club on 14th Street NW, said his revenue didn't shrink substantially.
"We're a business compatible with hard times, in some ways people still have to go out and have human contact," he said.
Some music spots, with lineups full of traveling acts, were in a worse spot.
Seth Hurwitz, owner of the 9:30 Club on V Street NW, said the Charlatans and Nick Cave were among British acts that canceled. Interest in other shows depended largely on fans, and performers with a more youthful following fared better.
Ticket sales for performance artist Laurie Anderson and veteran blues guitarist Buddy Guy, who appeal to older audiences, "ground to a halt," Mr. Hurwitz said.
Club owners said canceled shows and empty seats took a toll.
Al Afshar, owner of Bohemian Caverns on 11th Street NW, said his business was hit hard. "It hasn't been picked up since," he said.
Discounts did little to help when some customers didn't feel secure.
"We've done everything possible in order to work with the people," Mr. Afshar said. "People aren't comfortable to come out. It's not a matter of price."

Laughing again
The Improv, a popular comedy club across from the Mayflower Hotel, was empty in the week after the attacks. Several comedians canceled appearances in the initial two weeks, costing the club hundreds of reservations.
But by the end of September, business bounced back to normal, Improv manager John Xereas said.
"People are ready to come out, ready to laugh again," Mr. Xereas said. "They just want to get away from the TV. And this is live and interactive, and they can come and get something to eat, drink."
Jeffrey S. Akman, chairman of the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at George Washington University, said some folks had to wrestle with feelings of guilt and confusion.
"When people are sad, they don't participate in pleasurable activities, whether it is going to the theater or having sex," Dr. Akman said.
At the Improv, Mr. Xereas had considered offering discounts or other specials, but dropped the idea as customers returned. Still, few comics have brought up the attacks in their acts.
Jay Mohr, who headlined the club Sept. 27-30, was so moved by the story of a waitress who lost her husband at the Pentagon that he wrote her a "big check," Mr. Xereas said.
Some entertainment-related businesses saw a spike in traffic in the past couple of weeks movie theaters, for instance.
Julie Hill, a manager at Visions Cinema on Florida Avenue NW, said opening-night attendance for a revival of "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" was "shaky," but the movie has since been showing to near-sellout crowds.
Miss Hill said colleagues wondered about the appropriateness of the British comedy troupe's irreverent sendup of the Arthurian legend.
"Is it really tacky, or is it a welcome relief?" Miss Hill asked.
That movie houses experienced a surge in ticket sales isn't surprising. When the nation struggled through hard times in the 1930s, Americans sought solace in darkened theaters and our appetite for escapism seems as strong as ever.
Brian Callaghan, director of communications for General Cinema Corp., said ticket sales for September were up "considerably" from past years.
"In the past month, most of the movies have been fairly light comedies," he said, with films like "Rat Race" and "Zoolander" doing brisk business.
Mr. Callaghan said canceled sporting events and saturation news coverage helped drive audiences to the movies. "People wanted a break," he said.

'I'm not afraid'
Nicholas Bullock, 22, who rides Metro to his telemarketing job, thought the waived fares attracted more locals into the city.
"This is a great way to get people out," Mr. Bullock said. "By not traveling, we're giving in [to terrorists], and like the president said, you have to get on with your everyday life."
Psychologists say people have an amazing resiliency and ability to bounce back from devastating events.
Still, area residents do worry about leaving home amid the latest stories about anthrax infections and suspicious packages.
"There continue to be reports of possible terrorist attacks in the future, which creates an ongoing anxiety," GWU's Mr. Akman says.
But fear didn't stop a modest but motivated crowd from assembling Friday at RFK Stadium in Southeast to buy tickets for the Oct. 21 benefit concert called United We Stand.
Ticket buyers couldn't wait to slap down $25, $50 or $75 to see and hear such performers as Michael Jackson, Aerosmith, the Backstreet Boys, Mariah Carey, Destiny's Child and Usher. Proceeds will go to the American Red Cross Relief Fund, the Pentagon Relief Fund and the Salvation Army Relief Fund.
Adrian Eckert, 31, of Alexandria, was thrilled when he heard KISS, the veteran 1970s hard-rock band, had been added to the lineup.
"The bands are a draw, but it feels like something I can do to show I'm not afraid," said Mr. Eckert, 31, who arrived at RFK at 2 a.m.
Saul Calizaya, 30, of Manassas, said a packed stadium will send a message.
"Some friends told me they're not going because of what happened," Mr. Calizaya said. "We can show the people we're not afraid."
Mr. Calizaya moved to the United States from Bolivia three years ago, but it took the events of Sept. 11 to teach him what it means to be an American.
"Now, I feel a part of this country," said Mr. Calizaya, who sends a portion of his paycheck every other week to relatives in his homeland. "It's something I didn't feel before."
Pat Ulisse, a resident of Woodbridge, Va., who described herself as "60 going on 30," expressed a defiance echoed by others.
"If it's your turn to go, it's your turn to go," Miss Ulisse said. "We can either give in to the fear, or go on with our lives."
Jessica Davidson, 21, couldn't miss a chance to catch the Backstreet Boys live for the 42nd time.
The Vienna, Va., native said she traveled from college in Orlando, Fla., to get tickets for the benefit. She began standing in line at 8 p.m. Thursday.
"I'm gonna sit at home and watch this on MTV? I don't think so," Miss Davidson said.
Rebecca McClay, Vaishali Honawar and Gabriella Boston contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide