Merchants lament: Visitors came, saw pope, went home Tourist dollars went to hotels, while other businesses waited in -- vain THE POPE IN BALTIMORE

October 09, 1995|By Gary Gately and Shirley Leung | Gary Gately and Shirley Leung,SUN STAFF

From Little Italy restaurants to Inner Harbor tour boats, from the observation deck 27 floors above the water to the pubs of Fells Point, the question vexed merchants and operators of other tourist attractions throughout the city yesterday: Where did all the visitors go?

While hoteliers reaped considerable benefits as most of the 5,600 city hotel rooms and the more than 8,000 in surrounding suburbs sold out, the hoped-for weekend-long tourism bonanza failed to spread to nearby businesses and attractions.

At the Baltimore Convention and Visitors Association ticket and information booth on the Inner Harbor, volunteer coordinator Sharon Kaufman summed up the sentiments of many:

"They came, they saw, they went home," she said. Only 400 visited the booth yesterday; about 750 dropped by last Sunday.

Indeed, other than a post-papal parade throng at Harborplace's Light Street pavilion and strong sales of pope-related merchandise, disappointment and --ed expectations abounded.

Well-stocked Little Italy restaurants kept waiting for the rush that didn't happen.

Operators of the Baltimore Patriot, who give a 90-minute narrated harbor tour, canceled their noon cruise because of slow business.

Even the popular paddle boats moored for the day an hour early, while the sun still shone brightly, at about 4 p.m. Only about 70 boats rented all day, compared with the typical 200 on sunny, warm Sundays.

The Top of the World Observation Level and Museum, which featured an exhibit focusing on historic city churches, reported few visitors all day.

By late afternoon, a small number of visitors had the run of the spacious pentagonal level near the top of the World Trade Center, a place many had predicted would be a prime viewing spot for the parade.

Little Italy restaurateurs expected their business to double -- as it did when Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive game streak late last month.

But by dinner time last night, only about 10 customers sat in Little Italy's Da Mimmo's restaurant, which had hoped to lure customers with a special "Shrimp a la Cardinale" in honor of Pope John Paul II's historic visit.

Other restaurants, which had beefed up staff and stocked up on food, reported business off considerably.

"The town looks so quiet," said Da Mimmo's manager Masood Massodi. "So many people have come to town, but I don't know what they're doing. It's just been very strange."

Saturday had been even quieter for merchants and attractions, as many overnight visitors arrived late in the day and, perhaps preparing for an early morning, didn't venture out the night before the Mass and parade.

Widespread disappointment

Fells Point merchants expressed disappointment as well.

"Everyone was downtown. A lot of people who would have come downtown stayed away because of the traffic," said John Mancuso, partner in Piccolo's, a waterfront restaurant.

"After the Mass, there's a little business but not normal. . . . I thought it'd be a little busier because the hotels are busy."

The Archdiocese of Baltimore and the city had worked a year with hotels, businesses, churches, tourist attractions, the state and the city to carefully choreograph a weekend gala.

The city had hoped to stage a weekend-long extravaganza expected to attract 300,000 visitors and pump some $26 million into the local economy.

But yesterday, tourism industry leaders suggested that the pope's whirlwind tour of the city simply overshadowed other attractions and stores and left many drained emotionally and, in some cases, physically.

George Williams, state tourism director, also blamed the city's long-standing lack of marketing to promote itself.

"Nothing we can do is going to do any good until we can get sufficient advertising, until we can start advertising on TV and showing people how great this place really is," he said.

Priceless international exposure

Nonetheless, Mr. Williams and others said the international exposure generated by the pope's visit was priceless.

Don Bromer, manager of Maryland Bay Co. in Harborplace, would agree. Bolstered by sales of pope "miracle mugs," which show the pope blessing Baltimore when hot liquid is poured into them, the store reported its best weekend in its 15 years.

And plenty of free advertising, from Cable News Network, a German network, a national cable network and local stations.

"We've been blessed, definitely blessed. I think that this is just the kind of advertising money can't buy," Mr. Bromer said.

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