One year after one of the Boston Marathon bombs exploded outside his candy store, David Sapers still gets asked about it every day: Where was he when it happened? Was there a lot of damage? How many victims did his employees help that day?
Though the answers are painful, the owner of Sugar Heaven on Boylston Street doesn’t mind walking people through the hell that unfolded in his neatly kept shop.
But with Marathon Monday a few days away, Sapers is hoping the traumatic memories soon give way to a different set of emotions.
“I want people to come out and have fun,” Sapers said. “Boston is a vibrant, exciting city, and I want people to walk away from it with that same feeling.”
That sentiment prevails among the shopkeepers and workers along Boylston Street as the 118th running of the Boston Marathon approaches. Many of them witnessed terrible suffering and saw their livelihoods upended by the bombings a year ago. Now they want Boston’s signature commercial thoroughfare to get back to what it does best — hosting a rollicking party.
In recent years, victory parades for the Red Sox, Patriots, Bruins, and Celtics have all rolled down Boylston Street. But the Marathon is its mainstay, bringing out huge crowds and a feeling of renewal after the long New England winter.
This winter has been longer and harder than most.
Bars and restaurants that were shut down for 10 days or more after the bombing struggled to attract consistent customer traffic through consistently terrible weather. Many said they benefited from an outpouring of support after they reopened, but not all have recovered losses from the bombing itself.
“We got some money from insurance, but not even enough to cover the rent,” said Pornsri Lawton, owner of Bangkok Blue, a Thai restaurant near one of the bombing sites. She hopes Marathon patrons will not be scared away by fear of a repeat attack, or the additional security measures in place for this year’s race.
“I heard there are going to be more people this year, but security has been tight,” Lawton said. “We expect to do very well at dinner, but in the morning we have no idea.”
Many business owners said they have added new cameras and spoken to their employees about reporting suspicious activity to authorities. Some also said police have visited them to help prepare for this year’s event and make sure it remains a celebration that is accessible to patrons and spectators.
Aldo Velaj, owner of Vlora Bar & Restaurant at 545 Boylston St., said he will offer the usual pasta specials before the Marathon and expects his outdoor patio to be open on race day.
“Honestly, I don’t think what happened last year should stop people from doing what they want to do,” Velaj said. “I’ve been here for 12 years and I’ve never seen the city like that. I pray to God it never happens again.”
At City Sports, preparations have been underway for weeks. Several employees are running in this year’s Marathon, and the store designed a T-shirt and other items to help raise money for the One Fund to help victims of the bombing.
City Sports manager Kristy McLean said the store’s running club will hold a moment of silence on the anniversary of the bombing Tuesday. On race day, she hopes to join the city in moving on from the tragedy.
“I know the race has 9,000 extra runners this year, so I’m sure we’ll be a lot busier,” McLean said. “I think a lot of people just want to offer their support.”
But up and down Boylston there are constant reminders of the tragedy. Tourists frequently stop to photograph the bombing sites; TV crews and filmmakers use the locations as a setting for their reports or for background footage.
The workers find themselves in an unusual position — as victims of the attack but also its historians, and as ambassadors of a city trying to recover.
“How can you be ready for something like that?” said Sapers, the owner of Sugar Heaven. “CNN probably interviewed us six or seven times. But now that it’s a year later, I think we’re more prepared.”
It’s been an especially hectic — and trying — time for the Boylston Street businesses: they are trying to master elaborate new security and transportation plans and figure out tasteful commemorations. Many expect to display Boston Strong banners or incorporate the phrase in their menus.
At Whiskey’s pub across from the Hynes Convention Center, manager Wesley Young said she wants to honor the victims but hasn’t decided how. Young was working when the bombs went off and has vivid memories of the chaotic evacuation and the long lockout and cleanup that followed.
“It’s going to be hard to forget last year for a very long time,” Young said. “It’s going to be in the forefront of everyone’s mind, but it’s still one of the best days of the year in Boston. It’s always been my favorite day, and I don’t want to lose that.”Casey Ross can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.