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Businesses uneasy about effects of protesters, traffic during G-20 summit

| Thursday, Aug. 13, 2009

Confusion and frustration over security plans for the Group of 20 summit next month are frequent over-the-counter topics at Downtown shops and small businesses in the Penn and Liberty corridor.

"Of course, we'd like to stay open," said Rob Day as he rang up bags of flavored popcorn at his Pittsburgh Popcorn Co., which opened two weeks ago on Liberty Avenue. "But I don't know if it's going to be dangerous or not."

Day said he is awaiting guidance from his landlord, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

Other merchants and restaurateurs — worried about traffic jams, restricted sidewalks and thousands of protesters — are weighing whether to remain open Sept. 24 and 25 or close and miss out on sales.

Many expressed anger that city and national officials haven't briefed them on security plans for streets near the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, which will host the event. More than 3,500 delegates and journalists — in addition to the protesters — are expected to descend on Pittsburgh.

"They are not really telling us anything," said Steve MacDonald, owner Doubleday's Famous Burgers & Fries on Sixth Street.

"I've got two options — boarding up the windows and doors, and not opening for two days, or pretty much staying here and sleeping here and seeing what happens, hour by hour."

The city is being as proactive as possible, said Joanna Doven, spokeswoman for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.

"Certainly we want the business community to be looking at how they're going to be getting their employees to work in the event there are severe traffic disruptions," Doven said, "and it's up to them to decide if they want to stay open."

The Secret Service has said it will disclose details about security next month.

Cory Robinson figures his sandwich shop on 10th Avenue, a block from the convention center, is sure to be inside a fenced-off security zone. Without foot traffic, he has come up with a way to keep his six employees working.

Robinson hopes to rent out Cory's Subs & Cheesesteaks to journalists who could work and eat there for, say, $5,000 a day.

Based on the business he gets from other major convention center events — such the recent gathering of costumed Furries — Robinson estimates he would lose $35,000 in sales if he had to close from Sept. 23 through that weekend.

He doesn't expect vandalism, but said his insurance carrier told him any damage should be covered.

Ravenstahl and other city officials have been stressing cleanup efforts, "and that's all fine, but the biggest thing is security," Robinson said.

Goldstock Diamonds and Fine Jewelry, with street and second-level stores in the Clark Building on Liberty Avenue, hasn't decided whether to open, said David Baldwin, general manager, citing concerns about whether employees would need credentials to get into the area.

Also on the fence is the Crazy Mocha Coffee Co. on Liberty Avenue. But store manager Janna Natali reasons that restricted access would limit customer traffic.

President Obama and other world leaders probably won't have time to visit shops such as 3G Gallery in Liberty Center, adjoining the Westin Convention Center Hotel, said Coleen Rush as she staffed the counter. The art and jewelry store is looking to Liberty Center's owners for direction, she said.

MacDonald and Robinson know that if they stay open, they'll have to take early deliveries of the meats, vegetables, drinks and other products they would need through that weekend.

Dozen Bake Shop, which opened July 27 along Liberty, hopes to continue operating. Andrew Twigg, an owner, said he ordered a hand-cart in case street closures force him to wheel in the eight to 10 large boxes of cupcakes and other goods brought in daily from Dozen's bakery in Lawrenceville.

"We may not know for sure, until the day of" the G-20's start, he said.

Suppliers know to expect detours.

"If they do shut down streets," said Allan Czambel, territory manager for Stroehmann Bakeries in Leetsdale, "then we'll have to make adjustments to our delivery routes."

Trucking firm Pitt Ohio Express, based in Lawrenceville, is concerned about access to Cranberry and other points.

"What if they close the 10th Street Bypass?" spokeswoman Candy Cybator said, adding the company's routes would have to change.

Despite the uncertainty over security plans, Jack Cohen is planning an "international window" with dolls and toys from various countries at his S.W. Randall Toyes & Gifts on Smithfield Street, near Liberty Avenue.

"We expect it to be real good," he said, with G-20 participants looking for keepsakes.

"The reporters have kids. The demonstrators have kids. They all need to take stuff home," he said.

What's closing for the G-20

Allegheny County offices:

Executive and connected offices: undecided

Court records: undecided

District Attorney: undecided

Sheriff's Office Firearms License Division: Sept. 23-25

Sheriff's Office Writ Division: undecided

Treasurer: undecided

Churches:

First Lutheran Church, Downtown: Sept. 23-25

Schools, Colleges and universities:

Community College of Allegheny County — all campuses and centers: Sept. 23-25

Carlow University — undecided

Duquesne University — all classes and offices, from noon Sept. 23 through Sept. 25

Point Park University — undecided

Robert Morris University's Downtown-based Pittsburgh Center and the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management: Sept. 23-27

West Mifflin School District: Sept. 23-27

Pittsburgh Public Schools: undecided

Municipal offices

City of Pittsburgh offices: undecided

Federal offices

U.S. District Court Western Pennsylvania: Sept. 23-25

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