Papal visit was disappointing to many businesses, Nutter blames media

PHILADELPHIA -- The city is quickly returning to normal and is still basking in the glow of a remarkable, historic weekend. It was, on the one hand an uplifting experience for most, and, on the other, frustrating and disappointing for others.

"It was not the same. We did less business than a normal weekend," Corey Martindale of Zio's Pizza said.

All along the 13th Street restaurant district there is disappointment.

Many are reporting sales off by 50 percent or more. Although some did pick up new customers.

"All new customers. We definitely did not see a lot of regulars. It did see most of the city had cleared out," Jason Brooke of Zavino said.

And it appears most who came to see the pope brought their own food.

"We ate what we had with us. We shared, a lot of people talked. A lot of people brought food. So it was really like large family meals," Monica Walker of Brookfield, Wisconsin said.

The million plus crowds never materialized. Many residents left the city and others never bothered coming, blaming the tight security restrictions.

Mayor Nutter blamed the media.

"I think the reporting on any number of aspects of this was detrimental to the mindset of many Philadelphians and others. I think that, in some instances, you all scared the s*** out of people with some of the stories," Nutter said.

Nutter later apologized for, as he called it, an 'intemperate' remark.

But it was the mayor who set the tone, sternly warning people about long walks, restricted areas, tow zones, checkpoints and street closures.

New Jersey officials all, but urged people to stay away.

"There are not enough parking spots in Camden city or Camden County in the region to accomodate the people who want to get to the event," Jamie Fox, Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Transportation, said in an August 13th press conference.

Mayor Nutter admits public officials could have done a better job of getting on the same page.

"Those were not our finest moments in all of us and that is, the government's overall responsibility," Nutter said.

Celebrity chef Marc Vetri, whose eponymous restaurant is a fine-dining landmark, took to Facebook to rail against city leaders who he said "decided to roll out the red carpet for everyone making the pilgrimage, and roll us up in the carpet to place in storage until Monday." He said he was "haunted by the empty streets and shuttered windows."

One of Vetri's smaller pizzerias, at least, was enjoying a brisk business as people were leaving after Mass and the global gathering ended; the pizzeria near a security checkpoint was packed with an hour wait for a table. And at an outside tent, it was doing a brisk business selling pizza by the slice, pies, and drinks.

At Midtown III restaurant, co-owner Vivian Tafuri rented a refrigerated truck, filled it with $7,500 worth of food and spent another $1,000 on a parking space.

"It's all wasted," Tafuri fumed Sunday. "All the time our mayor was saying a million and a half people, and nothing. Wasted."

Liz Furey, a bartender at the restaurant, said the pope's visit chased away the regulars.

"The people who are visiting are having a good time at the parkway. But as far as the local businesses were concerned, what we were promised didn't happen at all," Furey said.

he World Meeting of Families, the Vatican-sponsored conference that drew Francis to Philadelphia, had estimated 1.5 million people would show up for the pope's weekend visit, with 10,000 staying overnight and business sales of $390 million.

Meryl Levitz, president and chief executive of Visit Philadelphia, the main tourism marketing agency, acknowledged Sunday that many shops and restaurants were hurting for business. Pilgrims went to Philadelphia to "be in the aura of the pope," not to spend a lot of money, she said.

"To look at a grassroots spiritual event in terms of immediate economic benefit is asking too much of it," she said.

City officials who for months had issued dire warnings about long walks and security lines to reach Pope Francis' events recalibrated their message last month amid fears they were scaring people away, launching an "I'll be There" campaign as well as the OpenInPhl hashtag for city businesses.

But their efforts came too little, too late for some merchants.

With sales down more than 50 percent, Robek's, a juice and smoothie shop, decided to close early Sunday.

Manager Dave Deener blamed the intense security, including concrete barriers and a vehicle checkpoint near the entrance. National Guard troops and a police officer sat on folding chairs nearby.

"It's awful. Everybody got scared off because of the security detail," he said.

Philly Cupcake went all out for Pope Francis' visit, making papal and Jesus cupcakes and plastering the windows with his picture. One window even had a big sign showing the pontiff holding a cupcake as if it were a communion wafer.

"A lot of people take pictures with it, but they don't come in," said store associate Silvia Pulido.

The impact of the pope's visit on business was especially apparent Saturday night.

Some Center City hotel rooms went unfilled - though officials said it was a near sell-out - and tables could be had at some of the city's trendiest restaurants. On normally bustling South Street, bars, restaurants, sneaker stores and smoke shops - usually filled on weekends with city residents, suburban gawkers and tourists - were empty.

Stephen Starr, one of the city's most prominent restaurateurs with about 20 eateries, told The Philadelphia Inquirer the pope's visit "affected business worse that Hurricane Sandy."

At least some people were happy about the empty restaurants. They got tables right away at hot spots that normally require reservations months in advance.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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