Increase in sales afoot

Stores see more pedestrian traffic

By Karen Riley

Foot traffic is the life-blood of downtown merchants.

That's why Jim Henley, manager of Waldenbooks at 1700 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, doesn't view the concrete barriers on the street outside his store window as obstacles to commerce. He predicted yesterday that the closing of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House will bring in more customers.

"All that this can do as far as business goes is make the walk from 1Sth Street to 17th Street all that more attractive," Mr. Henley said. "It can only help."

Many merchants were similarly upbeat yesterday - the first workday since security concerns led to closing Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House, rerouting traffic and banning nearby onstreet parking.

It didn't appear to have an effect on the Gap Kids at 2000 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, which reported a big lunchtime business yesterday.

The children's clothing store gets most of its business from office workers who stop in and browse during lunch, said manager Patrick Herzog. While the traffic changes may have a slight effect on business in the long run, he said, most of his customers "have to get to work anyway, so they'll still come in."

Louise Thurneysen, manager of the Fannie Mae Kitchen Fresh Candy Shop at 640 17th St. NW, saw no dropoff in business yesterday.

"There's no parking anyway," she said. "If more people are walking, then they will stop by the shop.

But a handful of shop owners fear business will be dampened by the loss of the limited on-street parking in the area.

"Parking is bad enough with the exorbitant rates of the parking meters ... Now it's worse," said Marlene Kossoff, vice-president of Atlantic Optical Co. at 1747 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.

About 10 to 15 percent of Atlantic Optical's business comes from customers who drive in, said Mrs. Kossoff, "a small percentage but it's big enough so it would hurt."

"Losing parking space is always a problem," said Eric Cameron, owner of the Jewel Boutique at 808 17th St. NW. Some of his customers like to pull up in front of the store to pick up a watch or other item that has been repaired. Because they won't be able to do that anymore it could hurt business, he said.

The Old Ebbitt Grill at 675 15th St. NW, which long ago began offering valet parking, expects to ride out the traffic changes with few problems.

"I may be the eternal optimist, but I think it's for the best," said David Moran, general manager of the restaurant.

Businesses predicted that truck and van drivers making deliveries in the area may be the most inconvenienced by the changes because they can no longer use on-street parking spaces as a loading zone.

"None of these trucks can unload on 17th Street. It's more aggravation for the drivers than for the stores," said Bill Wallace of the Complement, a luggage retailer at 888 17th St. NW.

While merchants weigh the effects of the street changes, the Washington D.C. Convention and Visitors Association is mapping out the possible impact on the tourism industry.

The association has been asked by the American Bus Association and the National Tour Association to study rerouting and sign problems for tour bus operators, said Marie Tibor, spokeswoman for the convention association.

In the long run, however, the road closure may be an improvement for visitors, who will no longer have to deal with heavy traffic as they cross the street from Lafayette Square to the White House, she said.

Pennsylvania Ave. Closure || Peace Park