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RNC no boon to some downtown businesses

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Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 01:28 AM
TAMPA -

In a word, the RNC convention has been "devastating" to some downtown restaurants.

That's how Pizza Fusion officials summed up their disappointment with business during the week when 50,000-plus delegates, visitors and media were supposed to drown the area in spending. If those 50,000 people are around, they're not in restaurants just a few blocks from the convention.

"We're reaching out to our loyal locals," the restaurant said to its followers on Facebook. "The presence of the RNC is devastating downtown Tampa restaurants. As a whole, we are seeing sales significantly below average."

General Manager Michael Przybycin stressed that he's not making a political statement. Rather, it's just about foot traffic. "I've spent the day walking around downtown, and all the managers of the other restaurants are standing outside asking, 'Where are all the customers?'"

Przybycin said he's, "heard every excuse in the book – that there are too many police, or the weather. But all the cops are so polite and getting along with the protesters. It's not a police state, and there's plenty of parking."

Everything seemed to work against the restaurants: Political crowds ended up well-fed inside the security perimeter, police from out of town were served by caterers, and regular customers stayed away.

They thought the 30,000-square-foot nightclub tent in Curtis Hixon Park nearby would bring in business, "but it was all behind a fence," he said. "With Jon Stewart at the Straz, we're seeing at least a few customers."

The Quiznos sandwich shop downtown found itself behind an iron fence that surrounds police headquarters. Armed officers can open a door in the fence to let in customers who asked, but otherwise, the location saw a grand total of two customers at lunch Tuesday and closed early.

The Vietnamese restaurant Indochinois on Dale Mabry Highway, just south of Kennedy Boulevard, saw most of its regular customers stay home this week, said owner Kien Huynh.

"I brought in extra staff and supplies, because it's better safe than sorry," Huynh said. "To tell the truth, we've been a lot slower than we usually are. I don't know if it's the storm, or what to blame it on." Perhaps because the restaurant isn't on a direct path from any hotel to downtown, Huynh said, "But it can show you what difference one mile makes."

So far, restaurants like Jackson's Bistro on Harbour Island that rented its facility for special events have done well. Others are seeing a very mixed bag.

If one downtown restaurant is doing well, it's the Indigo Coffee shop that became something of a prosperous neutral zone this week.

There, riot police on break mingle with black-shirted protesters, perhaps not heartily so, but politely so, each side wiping off their sweat and recognizing a common love of coffee, WiFi and air conditioning.

"I thought about putting the flag from Switzerland up in the windows, because we're neutral, and popular lately," said General Manager Katie Senkovich. Regular customers tended to stay home this week, she said, but the protesters, police and media helped make for steady sales of iced coffee and smoothies. "The police also like that we give them a 50 percent discount."

Several protesters declined to give their names, saying they don't talk to the media, but they did buy some waters and use the restroom. Ron Paul supporter Josh Iungerman stopped in for a cold drink before going to a protest nearby. "I just flew into town," he said. "And I have my huge 1776 flag to wave around town. … Yeah, the police are here, but when they realize the banks took their retirement funds, they'll be out here protesting with us."

A Citrus County sheriff's deputy in riot gear was in line in front of Iungerman. He declined to give his name, but sipped a strawberry smoothie and said with a wave to protesters sitting nearby, "We all get along in here."


rmullins@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7919 Twitter: @DailyDeadline

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