Boylston Street businesses reopen

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April 24, 2013, 8:21 pm
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(NECN: Peter Howe, Boston) - Not that it took away any of the logistical and emotional complexity of reopening, but businesses returning for the first time in nine days to a Boylston Street shut down by the Marathon bombs were welcomed with a gorgeous, sunny, 70-degree day Wednesday.

There was much work to  be done: A storefront cleaned and repainted at Atlantic Fish right next door to where the second bomb exploded, Dumpster loads of spoiled food thrown out from dozens of restaurants, debris sweeped up and contamination mopped down with bleach, hampers full of linens outside hotels and restaurants to be laundered.

But in the hours after the stretch of Boylston from Hereford to Berkeley Streets officially reopened at 6 a.m., it quickly filled up with pedestrians, motorists, sightseers, and thousands coming to pay their silent respects outside the locations where terrorists set off two bombs that killed three people and injured more than 260.

"With what happened in the city last week, I think everyone’s just glad to be back to work," said Johna Willis, general manager of Towne, a bar and restaurant known for its lobster popovers that’s based in the ground floor of the John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center and was shut down since the April 15 blasts.

"We’re thrilled to see the street open and pedestrians coming down the street and cars going down the street," said Scott Grigelevich, director of sales for the Lenox Hotel, which was open for its first day of regular business  -- such as it could be -– after a week serving as a dormitory for FBI agents and other first responders.

"Being sort of in the middle of the two areas of the explosion at first was a really scary thing, but in hindsight, we felt we were here to take care of everybody, so they could solve this and get businesses back and Boston back on its feet," Grigelevich said, adding that as he reflected, "More of the touching moments weren’t about tragedy. I feel like I’ve welled up and choked up more about the outpouring of support than anything bad."

At the Finagle a Bagel at the corner of Clarendon and Boylston Streets, company president Laura Trust said it was a "completely overwhelming response" after they opened at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday.

"We had so many regulars come in today. They were just so happy to see the staff. The staff was so happy to be back, and it was a nice sense of community," Trust said.

Not that there weren’t mixed emotions for many. Trust described having "a sense of pride to be able to open – but at the same time knowing the effect that this has had on the city and on people. It’s hard."

Finagle was among an apparently small number of food-serving establishments that decided to keep paying their staff even while they were shut down.

"That was important for us," Trust said. "Everybody wants to do something. Everybody wants to help in a little way. For us, for people in the service industry … people live from paycheck to paycheck, and so to be able to do that for our employees was just a small way to combat what’s happened and to minimize the impact on more innocent people.

"Every bit of kindness, I think, combats the evil," Trust said.

Now, many business owners say their biggest hope is that the good spirit and happy crowds that have greeted the first day of Boylston’s reopening remain for a long time to come, helping local businesses and workers – including wait staff and servers and bellhops and bartenders who depend heavily on tip income – recoup the millions of dollars they’ve lost.

"I’m hoping that everybody in the city of Boston comes to visit Boylston Street, all the businesses, small businesses, everybody – and support the city," Towne’s Willis said.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino moved Wednesday to make sure nobody has a reason not to come, making all on-street parking in the Back Bay free from now through the end of Sunday, from the Public Garden west to Massachusetts Avenue. The MBTA Copley Green Line station also reopened Wednesday morning, making public-transit access to the area much easier.

"I’m hopeful that people support the businesses here intentionally, knowing that a lot of business was lost, a lot of revenue was lost," said the Lenox’s Grigelevich. "Boston’s a tight-knit city, so when people need help, we help, and right now, these businesses need help."

Thomas Salter, who opened his Firehouse Subs franchise on Boylston close to Clarendon six months ago, said, "We’re excited to be open again and really happy, my staff is really excited to be back." His hope for the coming months: that visitors from Greater Boston, New England, and the world "just come back here, feel safe again, and take advantage of this beautiful part of the city that we’re in."

With videographer Dan Valente

Tags: Boston, Peter Howe, Boylston Street, Boston Marathon bombings, Boston Marathon bombing, Boylston Street businesses
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