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RNC slows, complicates business in downtown Tampa

Tuesday was far from business as usual in downtown Tampa.

The work-a-day office crowd gave way to hundreds of security and police officers, some pockets of protestors and vendors, and the occasional flurry of media or convention workers and delegates in the blocks surrounding the convention center and the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

Outside the BB&T branch on N Tampa Street — shuttered like most of the bank branches downtown — the only sign of activity was a half-dozen state troopers resting on the building ledge. "Closed" signs dotted the windows of a smattering of retail businesses, from convenience stores to florists to dry cleaners.

For visitors, it was a crapshoot whether a given business was open. Need to mail a package at the downtown FedEx? You were in luck. Not so much if you wanted to cash a check.

Inside the "Designing Eyes" optical store, optician Sharon Kyte was open, waiting for customers behind the storefront's plate glass front window reinforced with 3M film thanks to her landlord, Bank of America.

Tuesdays are usually busy with walk-ins and glass fittings every half-hour. Her sole customer Tuesday morning was a convention visitor needing an emergency fix after a lens had popped out of his eyeglasses.

Kyte had already lost one day of business, staying home with her kids when the threat of Tropical Storm Isaac closed schools Monday. She couldn't afford to lose another day. "I have no choice," she said. "I'm a small business, and I need to make money."

A florist two doors down was closed, however, out of concern that delivery trucks couldn't readily navigate the orange cones and barricades along N Tampa Street.

Organizers of the Republic National Convention, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, initially urged the estimated 50,000 downtown Tampa workers to come to work this week. The idea was to showcase a vibrant downtown to tens of thousands of RNC visitors, protesters and media.

But the look and feel of downtown were much different. The usual hustle and bustle of the office crowd replaced with barricaded streets, miles of fencing, an assortment of state troopers, police on bikes and other security forces on nearly ever corner.

Despite a large sandwich sign that said, "Yes! We are open during RNC," the Florida Wellness & Rehab center was offering limited services.

"We have no scheduled patients, but we are offering acute and urgent care," Dr. Carol Browne said.

In the same Franklin Street plaza, Eddie's Custom Cleaners was closed.

Hawkers preparing to sell Romney buttons hung out near Bank of America Plaza outside the main entrance to the skyscraper, which was closed off. Tenants and tower visitors had to walk across the street and pass through security stationed at the garage elevators.

Some offices that opted to bring employees in were operating with skeleton crews. That was the case at the Walter P. Moore engineering firm, which was operating at half-staff in the Fifth Third Bank building.

Karen Roan, who was among the engineering firm employees on duty, said her bosses tried to avoid RNC traffic and late-afternoon protests by shifting their work day to between 7 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.

Jeff Harrington can be reached at (727) 893-8242 or jharrington@tampabay.com. Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or sokol@tampabay.com.

RNC slows, complicates business in downtown Tampa 08/28/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 29, 2012 3:45pm]
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