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Businesses close early, soldier on in face of protests

(Maximilian Franz / The Daily Record)

(Maximilian Franz / The Daily Record)

A few large planters along West Pratt Street in front of Luna Del Sea restaurant remained smashed on the sidewalk on Monday afternoon, and two windows at a Subway eatery next door were bashed out and boarded over.

These were a few of the lingering reminders of damage caused when protests over the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who was injured in police custody, got out of hand on Saturday.

But Luna Del Sea owner Tony Assadi, sitting at the bar of his restaurant enjoying a late lunch, wasn’t intimidated by the weekend’s violence. He said he refused to close his restaurant Saturday because there was a private party scheduled that evening — so he just called in his own security to keep customers safe

“Nothing is going to stop me,” Assadi said.

Assadi, who has been doing business in Baltimore for 35 years and at his current location for about 13 years, said he thought most of the violence was perpetrated by people from outside the city, and doesn’t expect it to happen again.

“These people were on a mission of destruction,” Assadi said.

At least some Baltimore businesses and schools decided to close early Monday out of concern for potential protests in the death of Freddie Gray.

T. Rowe Price told employees in an email that, “Based on credible information received earlier today predicting additional protest activities and very large crowds gathering in the downtown vicinity this afternoon, we will be closing our offices at 100 East Pratt Street as of 2 p.m. today.

“We are taking this step out of abundance of caution and to honor our commitment to the safety of our associates.”

University of Maryland, Baltimore also shut down its campus at 2 p.m. on the recommendation of city police, a school spokesman said.

The Gallery mall on Pratt Street was closed by about 3:15 p.m. and several city police officers had gathered outside, but an officer said he was not aware of any incidents at the Inner Harbor Monday afternoon.

Police officers also gathered outside Camden Yards, helmets on their belts, but the situation remained quiet.

The manager of the Jimmy John’s sandwich shop near Camden Yards said at about 3:45 p.m. that he planned to close the restaurant as soon as he got the green light from his corporate office.

A sign posted at the Pratt Street Ale House announced that it would be closing at 3 p.m. Monday, to the dismay of a trio of baseball fans who wanted to stop in before the evening’s Orioles game;  Will Kuhl, of Catonsville, expressed confusion that so much of the city could be shut down but the game would still continue.

Don Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, said he doesn’t expect recent incidents to have a large impact on the Baltimore business community. He said outside of a handful of hours during the weekend the protests have been peaceful and that they haven’t scared anyone away from the city.

“I think people in Baltimore understand what happened on Saturday evening is not reflective of the population of Baltimore as a whole. I think what’s pretty indicative of that is the fact that within virtually 12 hours after that incident you saw 40,000 some people go to the Orioles game yesterday,” Fry said.

The unrest is also having an impact on the city’s tourism and hospitality industry, which the city has described as a key industry.

It’s Time 2015, described as a “summit to elevate women’s leadership,” is scheduled to start on Friday and last through the weekend. Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, actress Rosario Dawson and journalist Soledad O’Brien are expected to attend the event. But a message on its website acknowledges organizers are watching events in the city closely.

“It’s Time 2015 will take place at the Baltimore Convention Center May 1-3. We are working closely with the Convention Center and City Officials in monitoring the recent tragic events in Baltimore. We have been assured that our guests should feel comfortable coming to the event and that travel should not be affected. We look forward to coming together in partnership at the summit,” the message reads.

Tom Noonan, president and CEO of Visit Baltimore, said in an emailed statement officials have fielded questions from convention customers about the unrest over the weekend. Conventions play a large role in Baltimore’s tourism and hospitality industry which generated $266.3 million and supported 80,500 jobs in 2013.

“Visit Baltimore and our partners with the City have been working with them throughout the weekend to keep communication channels open and to provide updates on this very fluid situation. At this time there have been no cancellations of any citywide conventions planned or hosted by Visit Baltimore or the Baltimore Convention Center,” Noonan said.

Despite the optimism of city officials, some business owners are still on edge. Alex Elmulaiki, whose uncle owns Famous Deli near the intersection of West Lombard and South Eutaw streets, said he wants to see an increased police presence in the area.

“Yeah it was really crazy last time … we really need police out there,” Elmulaiki said.

Staff writer Daniel Leaderman contributed to this story.


About Adam Bednar

Adam Bednar covers real estate and development for The Daily Record.