- The Washington Times - Friday, October 25, 2002

Businesses that lost customers over the last few weeks breathed a sigh of relief yesterday after the arrest of two men in connection with the sniper shootings.

Some shops in the area even reported an uptick in customer traffic.

"Business has picked up quite a bit this morning," said Bonnie Seay, owner of Fantasy, a costume shop in Fredericksburg, Va., about a 10-minute drive from the site of one of the shootings. "We've actually had some parents bring their kids in here, and that's been missing since these shootings began."

At Gene's Costumes in Kensington, employees fielded endless phone calls about Halloween costumes while servicing a line six persons deep.

Customers at many suburban strip malls, a location of several of the shootings, reported feeling safer pushing shopping carts out to their cars and loading items into their trunks.

"It's fabulous," said D.C. resident Elizabeth Evans, as she loaded her car outside the Michaels craft store on Rockville Pike. "I've just been living my life when it's my time, it's my time. But I'm happy."

The Michaels in Aspen Hill is believed to be the site of the first shot fired by the sniper. No one was hurt in that incident, but days later a 47-year-old woman was seriously injured after being shot outside a Michaels in Fredericksburg.

"Basically, at this point, there's just a collective sense of relief at those stores," said Michaels spokesman Tom Clary, who said it was too early to tell if customer traffic picked up yesterday. "Our biggest concern is for the families of the victims."

Home Depot spokesman John Simley said sales dipped only slightly in the area after the fatal shooting of Linda Franklin, 47, an FBI analyst who was loading her car at the chain's Seven Corners location.

"Things have been back to normal for a while," Mr. Simley said. "Most of the sales were deferred. If people were planning to paint a room, they just put off those plans a few days. They still came in to buy the paint."

At the Shopper's Food Warehouse in Wheaton, the site of the fatal shooting of 55-year-old James Martin, the first fatality, business still appeared slow.

"Like all retailers, we saw the effect of this," said Polly Deane, spokeswoman for the supermarket. "Right now, it's too early to say if it's back to business. Right now, we're just heartened that this person has been apprehended."

At the nearby Mobil station on the corner of Randolph Road and Georgia Avenue, owner John Hyon said business has been relatively steady throughout the events of the last month. Four of the sniper's victims were killed at gas stations.

Mr. Hyon said he would not know until today if more cars stopped to get gas yesterday.

"It looks about the same as yesterday, but the news is still coming in," Mr. Hyon said.

Staff writers Chris Baker and Marguerite Higgins contributed to this report.

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