Center City hunkers down the day before Pope Francis’ arrival

Call it the calm before the storm.

As Pope Francis tooled around New York City in the now ubiquitous Fiat, a large section of Philadelphia lay dormant and eerily quiet.


Fences went up along Jeweler’s Row and Washington Square West — some waist high and others towering over the sidewalk — but it’s not quite clear yet what they will obstruct Saturday.

With no foot traffic to worry about, Chris DiCamillo and some buddies posted up on the stoop of a jewelry store on Eighth Street, drinking cans of Miller Lite.

“We’re in the jewelry business, but this ain’t a jewelry weekend,” he said. Instead, they’ve decked out the display window with pope paraphernalia: bobbleheads, T-shirts and a miniature miter. Someone’s small dog was barking nearby, maybe because it’s been outfitted in a tiny red satin stole and robes.

DiCamillo hopes to do some business and send the proceeds to a St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Drexel Hill, but the main service seems to be welcoming tourists to the city.

“We’re giving directions to cheese steaks and everything else,” he said.

With all of the cars towed from the area, the streets were clear — many still smooth from recent paving. Without any traffic, clusters of people carrying the clear backpacks from the World Meeting of Families crossed against a red light with impunity. Military vehicles of every stripe lined the streets around the Constitution Center.

Aside from tourists and law enforcement, the largest visible contingent on the sidewalks are street hawkers. Everything from flags to buttons to T-shirts — sporting the smiling face of Pope Francis — can be found on folding card tables or laid out on street corners near the Convention Center.

In Chinatown, the Tango karaoke bar staff stood outside, hoping to entice tired pilgrims in with big steel tubs brimming with ice and cold beer, and a barbecue grill pulled out onto the sidewalk. So, far they haven’t had many takers. Maybe it’s too early to drink, they said Friday afternoon.

At 10 p.m., the area will go into a security lockdown until 6 a.m. But the bar will stay open until 2 a.m., so staff will be sleeping over.

In perhaps the ultimate sign that Philadelphians have abandoned the city, or are staying inside, even the Dunkin’ Donuts at the Eighth Street SEPTA station was closed. The area will reawaken Saturday morning, when thousands of visitors are expected to start streaming into the area around Independence Hall.

The Holy Father will be giving a speech on the mall Saturday afternoon.

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