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As Convention Begins, SA Designers Praise the Calm Streets

The expected nightmare commute to Seventh Avenue as the GOP convention got under way didn’t materialize, but the scene was surreal.

Barbara Randall, executive director of the Fashion Center Business Improvement District, said she was unaware of any complaints on Monday, noting she had heard from employees that some access routes, such as entrances to the major commuting hub of Penn Station, that had been expected to be closed were actually open on Monday.

“I am completely amazed at how well everything is going,” she said.

The impact of the convention was plainly evident on the sidewalks in front of the major designer buildings, where building managers reported a marked decrease in the number of people showing up. Those who did were dressed casually, with one man entering 550 Seventh Avenue wearing cutoff shorts and flip-flops, although they did look expensive. Francisco Costa, the women’s designer of Calvin Klein, walked into the coffee shop next to 550 around 10:10 a.m. wearing a white V-neck T-shirt with a big hole in the back.

Calvin Klein Inc. told its employees last week that the company will be closed this Thursday and Friday, citing the possibilities for protests and further disruptions, as President Bush is expected to accept his party’s nomination on Thursday night. Most firms have equipped workers with ID cards or letters of employment showing they have business on Seventh Avenue, but otherwise are taking a “business as usual” approach to the week.

“We said we would play it by ear,” said a spokeswoman for Donna Karan International. “We’ve kept the office open, and we’re being very flexible for everybody, but this morning nobody had any problems whatsoever coming in.”

The designer was not in on Monday, but plans to be there this week, the spokeswoman said.

A spokeswoman for Liz Claiborne Inc., one of the biggest companies in the neighborhood, said it will be fully open for business throughout the convention, although flexible hours and telecommuting have been explored as options for employees most affected by difficult commutes.

With all the forethought that went into corporate emergency plans, after the experiences of 9/11 and the August blackout last year, some companies found it ironic that employees actually had an easier time getting to work, even for those coming from distances farther than uptown or downtown Manhattan.
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