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— Seaport Village's assortment of shops caters to tourists who are looking for unusual gifts or souvenirs to take home. Karen Carrillo, the manager of Crazy Shirts Seaport Village, estimates that over 95 percent of their business comes from out-of-town visitors. "Our business has increased tremendously. For approximately three months after 9/11, our sales dropped and we had to make adjustments in our stock levels and staffing. We were affected. It was pretty quiet. All of the retail businesses, especially downtown, were affected. There was a feeling that everyone wanted to be more patriotic. We had America shirts that we made, and everyone wanted to contribute and do something to show their support, whether wearing a shirt with a flag on it or hanging flags from the stores in the village. It was amazing what kind of business Alamo Flags did next door. A lot of the customers just wanted to talk about it. Still it was pretty much just dead. After two weeks of that, we had a tremendous amount of stock left over. But after six months, I think people wanted to get out and shop more. It was more like a relaxing thing. We started to see more people in the village -- maybe not buying, but more foot traffic through the store. We've probably seen about an 8 percent increase in sales over where we projected we would be. We're meeting what we planned. Seaport Village is unique in that the stores are not your normal mall stores. A lot of tourists are looking for things that we can offer that a normal mall can't."

The Bristol is a boutique hotel located on First Avenue downtown. General manager Gary Petill says that business couldn't be better. "I think we've done very well. People within the 180- to 200-mile radius of San Diego, especially Orange County and L.A. and the desert communities, have given us a lot of support. People are really in the drive market, and it's the drive market that we do really well with. People are jumping in their cars, and they are taking last- minute -- and I mean lastminute, even during the week -- vacations. We'll have people walk in here on a Tuesday who want to spend four nights who just decided on Monday morning that they weren't going to work but were just going to take some time together. Maybe it's that people realize how important the human aspect of relationships are, and that we need to spend more time together and do things that are more 'outside the box.'

"The first couple of weeks after 9/11, without the air travel, we were as quiet as everybody else was. It was a standstill. I think in a lot of ways that the whole country was so paralyzed by all of this that it was just a reflection. I don't know if anyone even felt like working for the first few days. You just couldn't think about work. People's lives and what had happened, I think, were more important at the time than being busy and going to work. We're a little behind in our room sales, but just a little -- maybe about 5 or 6 percent. We have certainly increased in our banquets, catering, and weddings. We have a gorgeous ballroom on the ninth floor. We've seen a lot of celebrations, and that's helped to make it up. We also get a great lunch crowd. It's mostly the driving market now. But those San Francisco people who will fly down and spend a weekend, we really haven't been murdered yet by them. We'll see what happens around September 11. Right now, we have 20 rooms sold for that date out of 102."

Rich Rethwish owns and operates the Sunshine Spot, a souvenir shop in Old Town that specializes in T-shirts, sunglasses, and low-priced novelties. "It still is hurting a little bit, but it's starting to come back. A lot more foreign travelers are coming in. The first few weeks were scary, because there was nobody around. You could walk out in the middle of the street and look up and down the street, and it was a ghost town down here. Right now, I'm actually a little up in income, because I wasn't doing that great last year. I'm probably up about 10 percent. But for a while, I just lived off my money in savings. The hotels seem to be complaining, but we got more local travelers -- the folks from L.A. or Arizona -- to make up for the loss of airport traffic."

Pamela Catania owns and operates Captain Fitch's Mercantile, a souvenir shop in Old Town that specializes in memorabilia and gifts. She thinks that San Diego is almost immune to drops in tourism. "For us in San Diego, it's been very upbeat. We count our blessings every day. Every day, we have to say, 'God bless the Brits!' because the whole time from the day 9/11 happened, they just kept on coming in busloads. They are like fearless people. When it happened, for the first two months we sold so much Americana from our store. They could not leave the store without saying, 'We're with you, America,' so they would do it by buying our patriotic towels and linens and other things. Overall, between their continuing to come and some local people -- plus people from the bordering states; we've seen a lot of people just driving from Arizona, Nevada, and Utah -- that's been real strong. About 50 percent of our business is tourist business. There was very little of a drop for us right after 9/11. Actually, our income is up from a year ago. I don't have the exact numbers, but it would be safe to say it's up at least 10 percent. Here in Old Town, we've all benefited. I know that other states, from what I've heard, are hurting for tourism business. It's interesting to talk to people from back East, because what we're hearing is that they see San Diego as a safe harbor. This is coming from people in New York, Ohio, Florida. They think that because of our military strength and presence here that it's safer. We hear it all the time. I personally went to Disney World in June. As an indication of how they're not doing, they were selling Cokes in Santa Claus bottles in June at one of their premiere resorts. They're still selling Christmas Cokes in June! As a retailer, that really spoke to me. My family didn't get it, but as soon as I saw them holding the bottles, I got it."

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Comments

caitlinsroses Nov. 25, 2009 @ 5:45 p.m.

My dad is one of the people you interviewed, Rich Rethwish. It's too bad he wasn't right about bouncing back. About a year or two after this article, he sold his business of 20 years and became unemployed, tried to make it as an artist for a few years, and eventually found himself working for someone else at a framing store. September 11 went deeper than we ever thought it could.

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