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September 25, 2015

Business slow in Center City as papal security net tightens

Streets closed, metal detectors in place in the secure zones

Center City streets – and businesses – were near-empty Friday as barriers and metal detectors went up ahead of Pope Francis' arrival Saturday morning.

At an ABM parking lot on Juniper that is usually filled with 70 vehicles, auditor Marcos Salinas, 49, counted just 19 by late morning, despite a special rate of $28 for 24 hours.

And it was even worse at the company's nearby parking garage, he said.

He's hoping he'll see a late surge as pilgrims who want to see Pope Francis on Saturday and Sunday, "but it is possible it will stay empty."

Meanwhile, Hendro Purwanto, 48, who biked into the heart of the city from South Philly, said he'd never seen the streets so empty. "I'm thrilled," he said, adding he'll be trying to see the pope because he's a practicing Catholic.

Nearby on Broad Street, the Hilton Doubletree still had "lots of available rooms," for Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights at $399 for a single. Down the street, the Hyatt at the Bellevue was sold out, despite $599 room charges.

Ed Grose of the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association said Center City hotels were close to selling out. However, there are rooms available from Friday through Sunday.

The Palm at the Bellevue, which usually has a lunch crowd of about 60 on a Friday was nearly empty except for two gentlemen at the bar.

"We have just foot traffic," said a day manager.

At the newly-opened Cheesecake Factory in Center City, lunch sales Thursday were off by $5,000, according to an employee, and Friday was even slower.

"It was our worst day since opening and this looks even worse," she said.

A Fairmount neighborhood resident who was taking advantage of the empty business district, crossed Chestnut Street without looking because traffic was so light. 

"I never do that," he said, as he stopped to ask someone about the best spot to catch a glimpse of the pope during two planned parades through Center City on Saturday and Sunday.

He said the Starbucks in his neighborhood – near where the pope will be on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway – has stockpiled mounds of coffee beans, but he said he hasn't seen increased demand.


The Starbucks at the Bellevue opened at 3:30 a.m. Friday instead of its usual 5:30 a.m, expecting increased demand, but it soon sent early workers home when no crowd appeared.

JR Johnson, the manager of Holt's Cigar Company in the 1500 block of Walnut Street, who had toyed with closing, said business on Friday was "lackluster."

"But we still have this weekend. I'm not ready to throw in the towel yet as far as sales go," said Johnson.

One of the only fairly busy locations in Center City was the Apple store near 16th and Walnut streets.

The company released a new iPhone this morning. Usually, that produces a daylong line. But an employee said there were fewer than 50 people lined up for the phone early and the line soon dissipated; though a steady crowd kept up.

The store pulled in one 6ABC-TV reporter, who was on her way to buy an external battery to supplement her phone's because of worries about reliable WiFi reception and dependable cell service as a crowd that could top 1 million fills the city to see the pope.

"I told Jim Gardner I'm gonna file one way or the other," she said.