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RNC protesters look like customers to some businesses

TAMPA — While many local businesses look for ways to cash in on delegates attending the Republican National Convention, a few are targeting a different group: the protesters.

Demonstrators, rather than politicians and media members, will generate the most foot traffic for downtown and Ybor City bars and restaurants not directly involved with the convention, observers say. They won't have meals waiting for them at their hotels, and they won't have buses whisking them in and out of the convention area.

"You're going to have everyone catering to elephants,'' said Patrick Manteiga, editor of Tampa's La Gaceta newspaper. "If you have 10,000 people coming of a different philosophy, I think they would flock to businesses that welcome them with open arms and a smile.''

Manteiga, a Democratic activist, has spoken with city and host committee officials about reaching out to protesters to ensure they have a safe, positive experience in Tampa. He doesn't stand to benefit financially from the convention, he said, but knows plenty of businesses that could.

On the northern fringe of downtown, Cafe Hey, an artsy coffee shop and restaurant, plans to be "Tampa's official oasis of chill'' during the Aug. 27-30 convention.

"We are looking forward to the diversity of people that this event will bring to our city,'' the cafe wrote on its Facebook page. "Let's hold our placards firmly in hand and sing Kumbaya.''

Cafe Hey will extend hours during what it calls the "2012 BigTampaCluster&*!%'' and add space for seating and events. In a nod to the Occupy movement (which targets those in the top 1 percent of income), the cafe will offer 99% Dinners of rice, beans and bread. The $3.99 price tag caters to people on a tight budget.

The cafe will host a "politically charged'' art show and set up a volunteer-run medical station. Still in the works are a Woody Guthrie sing-along and a political debate.

Several blocks south on Franklin Street, the Taco Bus is similarly stocking up on rice and beans but has no plans to run special promotions.

It will close at 10 p.m. most convention nights, unless high demand warrants extra hours.

"We think there will be a lot of people, but we don't think they'll be out and about there late at night,'' said Aviva Bowman, Taco Bus' marketing director. "They'll be in Ybor or South Tampa.''

Bars and restaurants in Ybor are anticipating big crowds starting the weekend before the convention.

Although venues such the Ritz Ybor and Carne Chophouse are booked for private parties, other places expect walk-in traffic from protesters and other visitors looking for something to do.

Ybor's gritty, historic feel makes it a natural spot for the counter-culture crowd, said Richard Boom, owner of the Dirty Shame on Seventh Avenue.

The bar is normally closed on Mondays but will be open every day during the convention with live music and extra staff.

Boom isn't targeting any particular group but hopes people of all political persuasions visit his bar, known as the "Pub on the Edge.''

"I'm not going to specifically hang out a flag and say all protesters party your a-- off here,'' he said. "But if they come, they are going to have a good time. I'm absolutely going to welcome them.''

New World Brewery and Market on 7th are hosting RNC resistance events but otherwise will be open for business as usual.

Both will include appearances by protest singer-songwriter David Rovics and Vermin Supreme, a political activist and frequent political candidate who wears a black boot on his head.

Gino Iavarone, operator of Market on 7th and Carmine's restaurant, already has seen an uptick in business from security teams and other people preparing for the convention.

"I think it's going to be really busy down here,'' he said. "We're getting a lot of phone calls.''

New World Brewery intends to stay as nonpartisan as possible and will continue its weekday barbecue lunch buffet ($6.50 per pound) and Wednesday smoked chicken dinners ($5).

"I'm hoping at the very least that our regulars aren't going to discouraged from coming down,'' said manager Dean Rosenberger. "If 1,000 other people show up, that's even better.''

Downtown's Pizza Fusion is passing out cards to regulars offering 15 percent discounts from Aug. 24 through Sept. 1. It's also promoting the GOParty Cards offering discounts at area restaurants and attractions.

It will stay open until midnight during the week and 3 a.m. during the weekend to attract people at the pop-up nightclub going up at nearby Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.

While liberal leaning with its organic offerings and eco-friendly practices, Pizza Fusion hasn't reached out to protesters specifically and welcomes all party affiliations, said general manager Mike Przybycin. "We don't want to seem to bias to one side or another.''

So don't expect a "protester pie.'' His focus is pizza, not politics.

RNC protesters look like customers to some businesses 08/08/12 [Last modified: Thursday, August 9, 2012 1:56am]
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