Papal Visit Hits Philly Eateries Harder Than Sandy: Starr

Pope Francis’ Philadelphia visit – with its closed and detoured roads and barricades – isn’t yielding great business for some city restaurants.

City restaurateurs from Old City to Rittenhouse Squares said that business has been slow all week and even specials couldn't bring in the crowds.

"This affected business worse than Hurricane Sandy,” restaurateur Stephen Starr told "The city scared all of our customers away. We have virtually no reservations. This is unnecessary overkill. What should have been a feeling of family and community was turned into a police and military operation."

The crowd on Saturday is the worst in decades, said the manager of Sahara Grill on Walnut Street in Center City.

"On a day like this we’re usually really busy, especially around dinner time, said Sahara Grill manager Mohammed. "It’s been lousy. It’s worse than one of our worse Saturdays days here. Eighteen years we’ve been here and it’s the slowest Saturday I’ve seen. I blame it on the City. They put too many restrictions, so people can’t get here whether their walking or biking or driving. We’re not going to close; it is what it is. We’re going to take it as it comes."

It wasn't much better at Bridgewater's Pub in 30th Street Station where security measures drove crowds away.

"It has been awful, said Bridgewater's owner Leslie Spellman. "I think it starts with security not allowing any egress into the food court starting early this morning. It’s almost as though they want to get people to come down the ramp from the train and go right outside. It’s ridiculous. In my opinion, the city has done the worst job with this whole thing because they have scared everybody away. Business has been pretty good for us lately, but for the past couple of days, it’s been a ghost town. The night is almost over and we’re about at about a third less than we would normally do on a Saturday."

Restaurants in various parts of the city saw small crowds.

"We have been much slower than normal," said Pat, a longtime server at Audrey Claire at 20th and Spruce streets in Rittenhouse. "This is actually the slowest Saturday I’ve ever seen and I’ve been here for six years. We had a special menu and streamlined our serving process because we anticipated the volume and there was no volume. I guess folks are sort of concentrated around two places, Independence Mall and the Parkway, so they just didn’t make it up here. I’m sure places around there were busier than we were.”

Some eateries even sent employees home.

"It’s just been very slow," said Indra Bumtsetseg, floor manager, of Bleu Martini in Old City. "We didn’t get anybody because they closed down all the streets too early. We are offering specials but nobody’s really on the street to come in. Most of our customers would be driving in from out of town; we usually don’t get many locals. It’s bad but I guess it’s a one-time thing, so we’ll get through it. We sent most of our employees home but we will be open through the rest of the weekend."

The city opened up a Business Resource Center ahead off the papal visit after various eateries and other businesses raised concerns about closures.

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