Merchants near Independence Hall worry about shutdown

Mollie Severa, manager at Making History gift shop in the Bourse, where many tourists stop.
Mollie Severa, manager at Making History gift shop in the Bourse, where many tourists stop. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 03, 2013

As if the rainiest June in Philadelphia history and a federal "sequester" that cut 10 percent from national parks' budgets were not enough, the federal government shutdown now threatens to further disrupt businesses and tourism near the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.

Merchants in shops at the Bourse across from Independence National Historical Park said they didn't see any impact on the first day of the shutdown Tuesday, but a longer closure could seriously affect the 10,000 visitors per day who normally pass near their doors in October.

"Absolutely, it's going to hurt us real bad," said Jacob Gershman, owner of Chocolates, Candies, Nuts in the Bourse. "The buses come from New York and Washington, and they stop here to see the attractions."

Travelers and schoolchildren on field trips come to the Bourse for lunch, to buy a gift or trinket, and to relax.

"We depend on the tourists," Gershman said. "I didn't see a change today, but tomorrow if it's still closed, we will see a lot of change because they will cancel the bus tours."

Edwin Aguana, manager of Bain's Deli, said that if the federal-spending fight is not resolved soon, he does not know how stores will survive.

Meryl Levitz, president and CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp., said many privately run historic attractions are still open, including Franklin Square, the Betsy Ross House, Lights of Liberty, and the National Constitution Center.

Last year, there were 39 million visitors to the five-county region, and many of them did not go to the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.

In the first eight months this year through August, 2.4 million visitors went to Independence National Historical Park, said Laura Canci, research director for the tourism marketing group.

"About 40 percent of the leisure market are return visitors. Chances are they aren't going back to see the bell and hall anyway," Levitz said. "They are pursuing passions of their own."

One up side of the shutdown was that visitors on Tuesday had more time - to shop.

"It's actually made us busier," said Mollie Severa, store manager at Making History in the Bourse. "Only because people already planned their vacations, so right now they don't have many things to do."

"Normally, there's nobody in here on a Tuesday. They are a little disappointed, but they are making the best of it, and they are shopping. I was shocked at first."

Severa said she referred out-of-towners to attractions that are open. "They can still see Rocky. They can still go on the Ride the Ducks tours," she said. "If this were long-term, I think fewer would come because people do want to see Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell."

Hany Desiyanti, manager of Vivianna gift shop, said business so far had not been affected because the visitors "were already here."

If the sites remain closed next week, buses carrying European tourists and children on school trips will not come, Desiyanti said. Fall is a slower season than the summer months anyway. "It's already slow, but when this happened last night I couldn't sleep."


lloyd@phillynews.com

215-854-2831

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