- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 18, 2003

Many Washington-area businesses took the lead of the federal government yesterday, closing up shop or sending workers home early as Hurricane Isabel made her way up the East Coast.

District streets were almost deserted yesterday afternoon. Only a few people hurried down the streets, past shuttered shops bearing duct-tape asterisks on their windows and notes apologizing for closing.

RTC Relationship Marketing in the District opened its 75-person agency just for the morning to get everything in order. The office closed at noon.

“It gave us the opportunity to put all necessary plans in place and communicate with clients,” said Chief Executive Officer Becky Chidester.

Ms. Chidester said Isabel came during a busy time for her marketing firm.

“An unexpected two days off is potentially harmful,” she said. “But [the staff] is prepared to work from home so we don’t lose productivity.”

The agency has had contingency and emergency plans in place as a precaution for other potential crises, like potential terrorist attacks.

“We’re all much better prepared now than a year ago,” Ms. Chidester said.

Lockheed Martin Corp., the biggest U.S. military contractor, shut its Bethesda headquarters for the day, sending 800 employees home.

“The federal government is shut down today, so we can’t do much business with the customer,” spokeswoman Meghan Mariman told Bloomberg News.

The D.C. Chamber of Commerce has been sending e-mail to members for the past two days, telling them about their preparations and potential office closings.

The office was closed yesterday and will remain closed today because of inclement weather, a mass e-mail and the office’s call center said.

On its Web site, the chamber highlighted office closings, utility company contacts and links to weather sites tracking Isabel’s progression.

The Greater Washington Board of Trade canceled its events for the rest of the week and sent its members emergency-preparedness tips. The office was closed yesterday.

Malls like Westfield Shoppingtown Annapolis closed by late afternoon.

Tysons Corner Center in McLean closed at 4 p.m., despite being “fairly busy” earlier in the day, said spokesman Eric Kulczycky. Drains were cleared out, loose material from the roof and trash cans around the property were removed, and all construction was shut down.

“We’ve taken a number of safety precautions,” Mr. Kulczycky said.

Officials will continue to monitor weather reports, but plan to reopen the mall at noon today.

Movie theaters like AMC Hoffman Center 22 in Alexandria and Regal Cinemas Rockville 13 also were closed yesterday.

While the majority of businesses in and around Washington were shut, other companies stayed open and braved the wind and rain.

Shelton Williams, owner of Shelton’s Salon & Spa on G Street NW, kept his business open despite the drop of customers on what is traditionally his busiest day of the week.

“We’ve had a couple of walk-ins, but it’s dead, though I’m not surprised,” he said. “How are people supposed to get here when the subways are closed?”

Down the block, the Verizon Wireless store was operating as usual, even though the sidewalks were empty.

“We’ve had a steady stream of customers because people need chargers and batteries,” said a manager, who asked not to be named.

The Washington Convention Center did not shut down yesterday after officials from the Transcatheter Cardiovascular Therapeutics convention decided to continue with its event. The 15th annual convention, which had about 18,000 attendees in the beginning of the week, has about 4,000 people attending educational workshops through the end of the day today.

About 80 convention staff members, including security, have remained at the center to serve the attendees, said Tony Robinson, a spokesman for the Washington Convention Center Authority.

The Small Business Administration went ahead with its 50th anniversary celebration yesterday at the Washington Hilton on Connecticut Avenue.

About 3,000 people packed into the hotel’s ballroom to hear Vice President Dick Cheney speak at the breakfast event, said SBA spokeswoman Carol Chastang.

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