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It’s not bad weather, but Pope Francis visit that will lock the doors.
Starting Friday afternoon, Eastern State will shut down through Monday and reopen Tuesday. Terror Behind the Walls, however, won’t have another show again for two weeks, starting back up again Oct. 2.
“We take very seriously our mission to make the building available to the public and we’re committed 361 of the year,” said Sean Kelley, Senior Vice President and Director of Interpretation at Eastern State. “We never close and try to show up through anything. For the Halloween event, we closed the whole weekend and that’s really a concern for financial reasons. We’ve run that event in a blizzard one year and in driving rainstorms. Visitors who come out in crazy weather say they have a blast. We just can’t get our staff there and we can’t get our visitors there.”
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The historic prison, located just a few blocks from the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, is right across the shutdown zone, so driving would be a little difficult.
It’s been slow going all week.
“We are focusing on staying positive,” Kelley said. “It’s a nightmare over those couple of days, but we’re going to get past it. It has a huge impact on us. Even now, our attendance is way down during this week leading up to it. Of course you never want to see that. On the upside, while walking around yesterday, we really had a lot of international business. There haven’t been too many Philadelphians walking around, but there were a lot of people from South America and Asia and from all over the world.”
For restaurants and bars in the area, numbers haven’t fluctuated much.
“The city is kind of on lockdown right now with all the road closures and parking prohibitions, so there has been a lull, but nothing drastic,” said Mick Houston, owner of Jack’s Firehouse, located across the street from Eastern State. “We were expecting an increase with the World Meeting of Families, but that really hasn’t taken place. It reminds me very much of the Republican National Convention from a couple years ago.”
Despite being around the different security zones, both Jack’s Firehouse and The Bishop’s Collar intend to stay open over the weekend while Pope Francis is in town.
“We’re losing a lot of our locals who are getting out of dodge,” said Luisa Magda, manager of The Bishop’s Collar. “But we expect Friday, Saturday and Sunday to just be crowded. Everything is the roll of the dice here. We don’t know.”
To help prepare for what they believe will be an onslaught of people, Magda and The Bishop’s Collar has cut some things off the menu.
“We want to make sure we sell food, but we can’t have everything on our menu,” Magda said. “We have to take off a lot of stuff because our personal kitchen cannot handle all that. We’re just a small, corner bar.”
Most of the staff at Jack’s Firehouse lives within walking distance, but for those who don’t, Houston has taken care of that.
“Anybody who is not local will be staying at my house,” he said. “I live right around the corner. I have a couple of them planning to stay. I don’t expect problems as the weekend goes on.”
There were some discussions about pushing back the opening of Terror Behind the Walls.
“We thought about it very seriously,” Kelley said. “We’re only open for two nights and then we’re closed for two weeks before we open up again. This time of the year, we’re only open on weekends and because we’re missing one of those weekends, it’s a full two weeks between opening weekend and the next time we’re open.”
It was decided to go ahead with the September opening, with the screams beginning the weekend of Sept. 18.
“I think we made the right choice,” Kelley said. “We had a record-breaking opening weekend. The show is up and running and beautiful. The actors are trained and the costumes are finished. We’ll have a two-week break to rest up and they’re going to come back and kill it.”