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Democrats’ Party Delivers Little Boost for Boston Retailers

In a week in which police often outnumbered shoppers, sales plunged for all but the best-located and flashiest names in Boston retail.

Former president Bill Clinton leaving the Alpha Omega store

Former president Bill Clinton leaving the Alpha Omega store.

Photo By Talaya Centeno

Boston — On Tuesday afternoon, shortly before his flight out, former President Bill Clinton made a swing into jeweler Alpha Omega’s Harvard Square flagship, mugging for a crowd chanting “We love Bill,” and leaving with several shiny shopping bags prominently in hand.

It was a photo op par excellence. All it took to pull it off was many frenzied phone calls, the gift of a $12,000 timepiece donated by Swiss maker Carl F. Bucherer and, according to sources, a watch for one of Clinton’s handlers.

In the end, as Alpha Omega demonstrated, the week the Democratic National Convention dominated this city was all about grabbing attention whenever and however possible.

But it was a time when attention didn’t always translate into business. In a week when police often outnumbered commuters on local highways and chairs stayed atop café tables, sales plunged for all but the best-located and flashiest names in local retail.

The Boston press spent months detailing apocalyptic scenarios involving road closures and subway searches, while Mayor Thomas M. Menino urged commuters to just plain leave town. It essentially left the city as one big vacant playground.

Among those retailers that fared well were Chanel, which ferried outfits upstairs to Larry King’s suite and other party-going guests staying at the Ritz Carlton, Lilly Pulitzer’s In the Pink on Newbury Street and legendary off-pricer Filene’s Basement downtown. Delegates couldn’t pronounce the name, but warmed to the bargains. Elizabeth Edwards purchased three outfits, according to a Filene’s Basement spokeswoman.

Everyone else found easy parking spots on Newbury Street, the city’s main shopping boulevard that usually functions at one lane because of double-parked cars. Kerry ally and former Georgia Sen. Max Cleland, who addressed the convention Thursday night, disembarked from one of the chauffeured black town cars waiting on the sidewalk in front of Ralph Lauren.

Generally this week, though, bored sales staff in silent stores grew tired of making conversation with each other. The retail doldrums in Boston were a worrisome harbinger for what might be the impact of the Republican National Convention on New York in late August, when much of Midtown is expected to be shut down or disrupted by security around the convention and massive protests are planned by anti-Bush demonstrators.
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