Visitors Flock To DC Sites Again After Shutdown

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Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Visitors lined up waiting for Washington’s museums to finally reopen Thursday after a 16-day government shutdown that has cost each site money in lost gift store sales, theater tickets and concessions.

The Smithsonian Institution museums, the National Gallery of Art and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum all returned to regular operating hours. Tours also resumed at the U.S. Capitol visitor’s center, and barriers were removed at the memorials on the National Mall.

The Smithsonian’s National Zoo won’t reopen until Friday because the staff needs more time to reopen the large park. Its popular panda cam, though, resumed showing pictures of the zoo’s giant panda cub and mother.

The Smithsonian attractions have lost about $2.8 million in revenue from visitors since Oct. 1, said spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas. Many tourists plan their trips long in advance and have been disappointed by the closure over the past two weeks, she said.

“People come from all over the world to visit Washington, and a big part of their visit is the Smithsonian,” St. Thomas said. “We have people who plan their trips and had to cancel, so we have disappointed tourists.”

It’s not the busiest tourist season on the National Mall. Still the Smithsonian counted 400,000 visitors the week before the shutdown. Officials believe they lost hundreds of thousands of visitors since Oct. 1.

Some special exhibits, including Leonardo da Vinci’s rarely shown notes and sketches of human flight 400 years before the airplane, were cut short due to the closure. The da Vinci materials are on view at the Smithsonian for another week but will soon be sent back to Italy.

Tourism officials said hotel occupancy rates in Washington were down 9.3 percent the first week of the shutdown, compared with last year, but hotel occupancies were up nearly 2 percent during the second week.

Some tourists have been anxiously hoping for news of the government’s reopening all week with one thing in mind: visiting the museums.

“If they hadn’t reopened today, we would have been a little cross,” said Bob Vincent, a retired scientist from Adelaide, Australia, who was visiting the National Air and Space Museum on Thursday with his wife, Annette.

Ronald and Nicky Joyner brought their two children from Scotland for a fall vacation, visiting New York City, Philadelphia and then Washington. They missed seeing the Statue of Liberty in New York but were all smiles as they examined John Glenn’s Mercury space capsule at the space museum Thursday.

One day earlier, the family listened in on a Capitol Hill press conference, hoping to hear the government would reopen.

“Yay, we’re delighted,” Nicky Joyner said as they started a day of museum tours.

“We knew this was our last full day before we head back, so it just happened in time,” Ronald Joyner said.

While sites on the National Mall were closed, some private museums and historical sites saw a jump in visitors. At George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate in northern Virginia, attendance was up nearly 25 percent in the first two weeks of October compared to a year ago.

Friends had warned Christy and Maury Mayer of Reno, Nev., to cancel plans to visit Washington when there were signs the government might shut down, but the couple decided to bring their teenage sons anyway and make the best of it.

Part of the trip turned into a civics lesson to see the political drama of the shutdown come to an end. The family received passes to the Senate gallery and waited for three hours Wednesday to watch lawmakers vote to reopen the government. By the end, the vote seemed like a social gathering on the Senate floor, Christy Mayer said.

It will probably be a highlight of their trip, she said.

“We stuck it out, and we’ve been busy every day,” she said.

While many attractions were closed, the family took a trolley tour of the monuments by moonlight and saw the White House, Capitol and Lincoln Memorial. They visited Arlington National Cemetery, Mount Vernon, and were still able to see money printed at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, despite the government shutdown.

“We are very thankful that today the Smithsonian is open because we leave tomorrow,” Christy Mayer said as the family looked at the Apollo 11 capsule and other spacecraft. “This is our one day.”

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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