Jerusalem retailers face chaos during Bush visit

"We've been paying municipal taxes for a long time - now they remember to clean the streets?"

king david hotel 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
king david hotel 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
As the bellboys at the King David Hotel were busy rolling out the red carpet on Sunday for US President George W. Bush's visit this Wednesday, businesses on Jerusalem's King David Street were rolling their eyes at the disruptions the visit will likely bring to their commerce. Elisha, who works at the Lucien Krief Fine Art Gallery, located only a few meters from the hotel's entrance, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that he wished Jerusalemites were treated as well as the American visitors. "It is the weirdest thing," he said sardonically. "We've been paying municipal taxes for a long time, but only now they remember to clean the street. I wonder why." Oren, another worker at the gallery, went out to speak with a group of police officers who were patrolling the street and was told that "businesses will work as usual and that only pedestrians will be allowed into the street," he said. "These sorts of visits are great, but they hurt our work seriously," added Uri Rosenbach, the gallery's manager. On Sunday afternoon, most businesses on King David Street did not know what to expect during the two-and-a-half days of Bush's visit. "No one came in here and told us what's going to happen, who will be able to enter the street and when," said Yizhak Offner, the general manager of Ofek Real Estate, another business on the street. "We called the operation room at the King David Hotel and asked them for details, but they told us to call the police and find out," Offner added. "It's really inconvenient. If we won't be able to work, they should let us know so we can find solutions or just take a few days off," said a neighboring business owner who entered Offner's store. "We are happy that the greatest friend of Israel is paying us this kind of respect, but we don't want to close the shop down for three days," said Yehuda Cohen, who owns a Judaica store. "We can walk, but my father cannot get to the store on foot." He pointed to his father, who was working at the back of the store. Most businesses plan to open. While they know they can't realistically expect many customers, they have said they depend on Bush's entourage to stop by. "A couple of Secret Service people came by last week and told us we'd get pass-cards, but they haven't given them to us yet," said Sela Moshe, a manager of the Royal Collection art gallery across the street. "We plan to come to work as usual on Wednesday and see how things go. If it's impossible, we'll close down." The Avis Car Rental Agency branch next door has already decided to close until next Sunday. "We have other branches in town, and it will be impossible for cars to enter the street, so why even bother?" asked an Avis worker. Meanwhile Sunday, the management of the King David Hotel hosted local and foreign media representatives for a tour of the hotel. All 237 rooms will be occupied by Bush's entourage. After demonstrating how the red carpet would be rolled out for the US president, the hotel's assistant general manager, Benny Olearchik, took the journalists to see where the president would be sleeping - on the sixth floor, suite 622. Entering the room was prohibited. However, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's suite was open. One group after another, curious journalists inspected the spacious working lounge and wandered through the bedroom with its magnificent view of the Old City. A press center for the more than 100 foreign journalists covering Bush's visit will be set up on Wednesday on the top floor of the Jerusalem Municipality, the city said on Sunday. The city staff that usually works on the sixth floor of the municipality building will be relocated during the visit. Etgar Lefkovits contributed to this report.