Washington DC – Downtown Washington, DC has taken on a weird and militarized feel. Almost all businesses, storefronts, and offices have been closed, and the streets near the United States Capitol are closed with metal and cement barriers.
The day before Joe Biden was sworn in as president, federal and local officials took unprecedented action to secure the nation’s capital – two weeks after an angry mob of Donald Trump supporters stormed Capitol. Five people died that day, including a Capitol police officer. Amid threats of further protests from pro-Trump groups, officials are trying to ensure that a repeat does not happen.
But heightened security measures are weighing down on downtown businesses already reeling from coronavirus lockdowns that have sent the bulk of their customers – office workers – home. Business owners say latest security lockdowns are now dashing any hope they had inauguration week – an opportunity that only presents itself once every four years – would bring much-needed income.
“We were expecting a lot of business, because usually around the inauguration it gets a lot of people,” said Steven Ngo, who works at Lincoln’s Waffle Shop, his family business.
“There was no trafficking at all, he is dead,” Ngo told Al Jazeera. “All the other businesses around us have closed their doors or have a very limited timeframe,” he says, “we’re open but we’re getting almost to this point, we’re losing money.”
Ngo, standing by the cash register, points to the chairs and bar stools, now stacked on the tables. Amid the increase in coronavirus cases, indoor dining was suspended on December 23. It was due to be lifted on January 15, but citing the recent security breach, the city extended it at least until January 22.
Their only clients lately, he said, were police officers who came over for coffee or a quick lunch.
“Last year, right before COVID, we were doing great, every section, every seat was full, customers were lining up and the phone was ringing constantly,” he says. “Now it’s a dead end.”
According to a 2017 study by the district finance director’s office, openings typically generate $ 31.4 million in economic income for the city. This year, there are signs that this figure will be difficult to reach. The latest data released by DowntownDC, a local non-profit organization, shows that the city’s downtown is operating at 18% of its 2019 levels, up slightly from the northern summer months when the figure was by 12%.
More than 20,000 armed National Guard troops were summoned to patrol the city center. And without the usual car and pedestrian traffic, the streets are quiet – the only noise coming from the occasional noise of workers drilling screws into plywood panels for last-minute reinforcements.
Mayor of Washington, DC Muriel bowser asked residents to avoid downtown at the opening and asked visitors not to come, urging them to “virtually enjoy it” from their homes. The city has announced that 13 metro stations will not work.
“It was very important that we had a posture that discouraged people from coming, everyone, but also discouraged these extremist groups from thinking that they might come back,” Bowser said in an interview on Sunday with the show. American television 60 Minutes.
DC Mayor Muriel Bowser shows Scott Pelley the preparations and security arrangements underway for next week’s inauguration: “It was very important that we take a posture that… discouraged these extremist groups from thinking that ‘ they could come back. https://t.co/LiaoLEavuO pic.twitter.com/6PqK1x3FLn
– 60 minutes (at 60 minutes) January 18, 2021
Airbnb canceled all reservations in the Washington, DC metro area during inauguration week, and Shutdown DC, a group of local activists, released a joint statement last week with Black Lives Matter calling all downtown hotels to shut down and pay their employees to keep them safe.
With residents in a hurry to stay home and little prospect of tourists coming to town, Dexter Morse, manager of a downtown souvenir shop, doubts he’ll be able to sell much merchandise in the coming days. .
The store is located directly across from the Harrington Hotel and Harry’s Bar, where hundreds of Trump supporters – including members of the far-right group the Proud Boys – stayed and gathered on December 12 during the ‘a demonstration against the results of the American elections. That night, a brawl broke out between Trump supporters and counter-protesters. Four people were stabbed. The hotel subsequently announced it would close from January 4-6 to “protect the safety of our visitors, customers and employees.”
Four years ago, Morse says, the store had strong sales in the days leading up to Trump’s inauguration that continued throughout the weekend. Now he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to sell the Biden mugs, sweatshirts, and T-shirts he’s stacked on the shelves.
“It’s going to affect us tremendously,” Morse said, standing in the middle of the empty store. “We usually do well during inauguration week, but this year they’re even discouraging people from coming to Washington,” he says. “It is going to be difficult.”