Restaurants see red after game, concerts Traffic: Owners from Little Italy to Canton say business dropped Saturday night, after diners apparently heeded the city's warnings about downtown gridlock.

August 11, 1998|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Jamie Stiehm contributed to this article.

Frank Vellegia would like to believe that Baltimore is enough of a big-league city to handle more than two or three major events at the same time. The longtime Little Italy restaurateur -- who saw his business take a nose dive Saturday night -- would like to believe it, but he doesn't.

Why, Vellegia asked yesterday, did city officials and local media send out "doomsday predictions" of major gridlock downtown for Saturday evening's triple-header of Ravens football, Reba McEntire at the Baltimore Arena and a jazz show at Pier 6?

Regular diners apparently heeded warnings that 16,000 cars would be vying for limited parking spots, and restaurant owners from Little Italy to Canton reported business down by as much as half Saturday night.

"We're a big city. Why should we act like a hick town?" said Vellegia, who estimated he lost 40 percent of his business Saturday and compared the stay-at-home scare to the phenomenon of bread and toilet paper disappearing from grocery store shelves when snow is predicted for Crab Town. "Traffic congestion is part of big-city living. Why don't we act like a big city and take it in stride instead of calling it a catastrophe?"

City defends warnings

City Public Works Department spokesman Kurt L. Kocher defended the approach yesterday. "We encouraged just the opposite [of staying away]. We suggested people make a day of it: have lunch and dinner, see sights, visit the stores, take advantage of all the attractions," he said.

The city's repeated pleas for motorists to "come early and stay late" from Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, his police commissioner, Ravens' officials and the city's director of Public Works -- aided by 738 traffic signs -- were credited with minimizing Inner Harbor congestion.

But it also cut traffic at restaurants near the harbor. Business owners said drivers could park on the street during dinner hours in Little Italy on Saturday night, which is unusual.

Bryan Chiapparelli, manager of a Little Italy restaurant that bears his family's name, said, "We did half our usual business -- the slowest it's been since we had those bad blizzards" in 1996.

Business was 'dead'

Things weren't any better to the east.

"We were dead; the whole [O'Donnell Street] square was dead," said Patrick "Scunny" McCusker, owner of Nacho Mama's restaurant in Canton. "Even with summer vacations, I was surprised. I thought we would have more before- and after-game business, but just like weather [forecasts], people totally overreact to the media."

At the Waterfront Hotel in Fells Point, business was down by one-fourth, said owner Gene Raynor.

"We had calls from people canceling," said Raynor. "People saying they weren't going to come down into that mess. We should have been jumping."

"The media said it was going to be a nightmare, and it wasn't," said Paul Oliver of Dalesio's on Eastern Avenue near President Street. "I started getting worried when I picked up the Saturday morning paper. You could have compared it to headlines using that four-letter word 'snow.'

"We had geared up with extra staff and food anticipating a big crowd after the game," said Oliver. "But it turned out to be a big flop."

Pub Date: 8/11/98

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