TAMPA - On a typical day, The Loading Dock in downtown Tampa fills with a lunch line that trickles out the front door. They expected even more customers during the Republican National Convention, and prepared to stay open until late at night.
"They made us believe it was going to be wonderful and excellent, and it's not. It's awful," said Loading Dock Owner Karen Warren. "It's going to take a couple months for me to get over what I've been through this week."
Warren hasn't seen such sparse business since she bought the sandwich cafe three years ago. She built profit from $300 to $1,000 a day. Tuesday, she made $200. Wednesday, the lunch rush was non-existent. Only one seat was taken.
Many of Warren's dependable rush of government and downtown business employees dried up as buildings closed to avoid the hassle or to ramp up security.
Warren points to a downtown filled with fencing and hype, scaring away new customers while RNC visitors attend large parties or pre-planned lunches at more commercial venues. Every once in a while, law enforcement officers pop in for a coffee, but not often.
"I go home and think, 'Well, maybe tomorrow will be better,' but this is worse than yesterday," said Loading Dock sandwich chef Jewell Cline.
Cline typically makes a couple hundred sandwiches a day. By 11:30am Wednesday, she hadn't made any. The cafe decided to shut down hours early, which meant Cline's bank account will suffer along with the restaurant's cash register.
RNC crowds have brought major business to other doors, like Carne Chophouse in Ybor, which expects to make 10 times a normal week. Channelside venues also expected about five times their normal profit. Hotels are booked solid and so are other businesses like the Aquarium and the Tampa Bay History Center, both of which shut down to host events and the media.
Still, the smaller, lesser-known venues claim a major loss, and they want help making it up.
Nearby Samaria Cafe expects to lose tens of thousands after spending an excess amount for tomatoes, bread, and Pepsi syrup, all in preparation for thousands of extra customers.
"If it goes like this the next couple days, we'll lose over $20,000 to $30,000," said owner and chef Eftechios Xanthoudakis. "We were ready for big business."
The Loading Dock also stocked up on supplies, all of which are perishable. They say their brownies aren't even selling.
"I think everybody's a paycheck away from disaster and we're going to look at disaster soon," Cine said.
In a press conference Wednesday morning, Mayor Bob Buckhorn said he is aware of the issue and sympathetic to it, but said the hassle is necessary.
"Part of that is because of the security. Part of that is because of the fencing," Mayor Buckhorn said. "There's nothing I can do about that. That's part of the reality of a post-9/11 world."
Warren plans to send Mayor Buckhorn a letter asking for financial reimbursement from profit the city's raked in from renting out public parks and other venues.
"We've just lost all around," Warren said.
The city attorney's office will review potential legal options for financial reimbursement requests, but officials don't expect the city will have made much profit, either, once security fees are paid.
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UPDATE: The National Weather Service says the tornado that hit Moore, Oklahoma, was a top-of-the-scale EF-5 twister with winds of at least 200 mph.