In New York, GOP Means "Get Out, Pal"

For peeved and harried business owners near the Republican National Convention at Madison Square Garden, politics as usual is anything but

By Katie DeWitt

With the Republican National Convention about to descend on New York's Madison Square Garden, the last thing small businesses in the area are in the mood to do is celebrate. According to Big Apple Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the 50,000 delegates, reporters, and organizers will pour $265 million into the city's economy. But for folks like accountant Mark Feinsot, whose practice is just two blocks south of the Garden, the GOP gala and gabfest is a "huge mess" just waiting to happen.

"It was a big, big mistake to hold the convention here, because it's going to entirely disrupt one of the major cities and commercial centers in the country," says Feinsot. "There are a lot of better places it could have been held, like Palm Springs, where it wouldn't cause this kind of disruption."


  Several months ago, Feinsot decided to save himself the trouble of negotiating security checks, traffic snarls, and the police barriers that will be the order of the day while the Republicans are in town. Like many other New Yorkers, he is closing up shop for the duration and taking a weeklong vacation.

Others don't have that option -- people like Steve DiMaio, who manages a printing and graphics business almost within the Garden's shadow.

"I'm not being paid to print any documents for the convention, so it will definitely hurt my business, not help it," he gripes. "At least half my clients have already said they won't be coming in to work that week because they commute through Penn station."


  Penn Station, which extends under Madison Square Garden and serves over 500,000 commuters daily, will offer limited exits and entrances during the convention. Meanwhile, some 30 blocks surrounding Madison Square Garden will be closed to traffic, meaning major headaches for outfits awaiting deliveries or trying to ship goods to customers.

None of this ruffles Bloomberg, who has spoken repeatedly of his confidence that any disruptions will be slight, and that New Yorkers and commuters should turn up for work as usual and go about their normal lives.

Joanne Franklin, who owns a promotions and corporate-gifts business three blocks south of Madison Square Garden, is taking Hizzoner's advice -- in part, she explains, because she doesn't have any choice. "It would be a perfect excuse to take a week off," she says, "but my clients don't want excuses -- they want someone taking their calls, and that means I have to stay open and staffed." Instead of grabbing a cab every morning, Franklin plans to walk from her East Side apartment, fingers crossed all the way that her commuting employees will find their own ways through security precautions in Penn Station and rerouted bus lines.


  "We'll play it by ear," she says. "New York City has been through a lot worse. After the last year's blackout and September 11, I think we can handle the Republicans."

New York Senator Hillary Clinton goes further. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, she paints the GOP gathering as an opportunity for a residents of a city that votes overwhelmingly Democratic to broaden their educations. "I would urge all New Yorkers to come from everywhere, and enjoy the scene," she told The New York Times. "They'll get to see a Republican. Maybe it's the first Republican they've ever seen in their lives!"

For those who work near the Garden, that could be a tough lesson.

DeWitt is an intern at BusinessWeek Online

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