‘Call first:’ Downtown businesses near NATO Summit prepare for uncertainty

It’s hard to run a business if you’re not certain whether employees or customers will be able to get to the shop — that’s the reality for some business owners near the Washington Convention Center, which will host the NATO Summit from Tuesday through Thursday.

At Central Safe & Locksmith, on 7th Street Northwest, across from the convention center, Larry has had a sign taped to the glass window with advice to customers while NATO is in town.

“Call first, before you come down here because you never know,” he said. “You might not be able to get here at all. We might be closed, we might not be able to get in here, either.”

While that kind of uncertainty might cause other businesses to close, “We’re fortunate enough we’ve got a job we can do this week outside of the shop here,” referring to customer calls for emergency locksmith service.

“If no one’s here, the phone’s gonna be rolled over to one of our guys, so we get to try to work something out to get to you,” Larry said. “We’re not gonna close.”

A few doors down 7th Street, Adam Benjamin at Pearl’s Bagels said many of his regular breakfast and lunch customers have told him, “They’re making plans to either work from home, or come into the office sporadically throughout the time NATO’s here because it’s gonna be a logistical challenge getting to and from work.”

With tall anti-scale fencing in front of the shop, running along the sidewalk but not currently blocking access, Benjamin said: “We’ve been told that we will not be in a pedestrian-restricted zone, but I know, based on previous experience with events here, people think of this chunk of the city as ‘Oh, that’s like where the chaos is.'”

“I don’t blame them for thinking that,” he added. “It’s like, ‘Oh, I don’t want to deal with that on my morning commute, or when I’m heading out to lunch.'”

Benjamin hopes some participants in the summit will be in the mood for a bagel.

“Obviously, there’s kind of a captive audience across the street. That’s one of the things about this area — there are some food options, but it’s not the most food-dense part of the city,” he said.

He hopes regular customers who live nearby will have access to the shop, even as security tightens, “because our regulars really support us, and are like the foundation of what we do.”

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Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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