By MIA PENTA
SEATTLE — The downtown streets are lined with twinkling lights, festive decorations and shoppers full of holiday cheer. And merchants hope they stay that way, despite protests planned Thursday to mark the first anniversary of the World Trade Organization riots.
Along with the city and police, merchants say they have learned from last year’s WTO violence, where businesses suffered millions of dollars in losses because of vandalized property, lost sales and closed offices.
This year, security will be increased, but merchants say they are not expecting to close down.
"I think it’s going to be different this year," said Marla Clem, manager of Joan and David. Last year, violent protesters smashed windows at the store. "Our biggest concern is that people are going to be scared away."
About 5,000 demonstrators are expected for "N30," the International Solidarity Day Against Corporate Globalization on the Nov. 30 anniversary of WTO. Last year, 50,000 activists closed WTO opening ceremonies and caused some $3 million in property damage. About 600 people were arrested and more were sprayed with tear gas in several days of protests.
"Right now, we’re planning to add security and we have heightened employee awareness of what is going on," said John Bailey, a Nordstrom spokesman who estimated the damage and expenses to the downtown store last year at around $135,000.
Merchants say they believe the Seattle Police Department is prepared to control any violence.
"We’ve been in touch with law enforcement and security," said Kimberly Reason, spokeswoman for the Bon Marche. "We feel confident that things won’t get out of hand."
"I am anticipating for this to be a peaceful celebration," said Sylvia McDaniel, marketing director of the Downtown Seattle Association. "We’re not telling (businesses) to board up their windows."
But stores are ready if things get out of control. Seattle’s Best Coffee has a large kiosk located in Westlake Park, where protests are scheduled, but the coffee shop is prepared to move operations inside Westlake Center at the first whiff of tear gas, said supervisor Chris Johnson. The store will only operate through a walk-up window if things get violent, he said.
"We’re treating it as business as usual," said Lynn Beck, spokeswoman for Pacific Place, an upscale downtown shopping mall. "If we need to change course, we are prepared."
Many shoppers are unconcerned about protests, as long as they are peaceful.
"If it’s a peaceful demonstration, everybody is entitled to their soapbox," said 52-year-old Steve Bury, of Bothell, who was shopping at Westlake Center. "Nothing like last year. We don’t need that."
Most had confidence that the city has learned its lesson.
"They would rather be safe than sorry, because they weren’t last year," said 25-year-old Habib Obi of Seattle. "We learned that it could get out of hand."
Mayor Paul Schell and the police department were accused of being unprepared, but Seattle officials say this won’t be a repeat of last year.
New police chief Gil Kerlikowske warned that demonstrators in the streets without a rally permit or march permit will be arrested.
"Security is going to be a lot more restrictive," said Eduardo Martinez, 29, of Seattle, who was shopping at Nordstrom.
A few are not convinced that Seattle will be better prepared.
"Wednesday night, I’m going to get some shopping done and then I’m going home and staying home," said Jan Peightal, a retired Seattle resident.
Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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