At 3:35 a.m. Wednesday, an official in a passing police truck gave the all-clear. Officers lifted barricades and stacked them on the sidewalk. And just like that, without fanfare or ceremony, Boylston Street was back open for business.
Nine days after tragedy struck the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring 262, pedestrian traffic began to trickle back onto the once-busy commercial thoroughfare that had been blocked off by police as a crime scene.
And for the first time since the bombing, MBTA trolleys rumbled to a stop at Copley Station, the plastic sandwich board reading “Closed for the Marathon” removed from the entrance at last.
In some ways, the cadence of the street struck familiar tones in the wee hours Wednesday.
Traffic was sparse, other than the occasional taxi and delivery truck. Employees bustled inside a few cafes and convenience stores.
Just before 4 a.m., Rosalio Rodriguez, 40, pumped a squeegee over the windows of the Starbucks just a few feet from the site of the second blast.
It was a strange feeling to return to this stretch of the street, said Rodriguez, where he washes the windows of several storefronts. He was glad to be back at work.
“I didn’t work all last week,” Rodriguez said. “All the stores were closed.”
The chaos and debris of last week had largely vanished, but a few reminders remained.
At The Tannery, a clothing store, marquee letters hung precariously off their bearings. Tall boards of wood, painted black, wrapped around the facade of the restaurant Forum, the site of the second blast.
In front of Marathon Sports, the spot where the first bomb exploded, a crew of about a half-dozen workers scraped fresh concrete over a patch of sidewalk blasted by the bomb.
The store had not yet reopened, and a banner hung in the window, mourning the bombing victims and thanking law enforcement officers and first responders.
“We all stand as one, and we will run again,” the sign read. “We are all Boston. Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts. We will reopen soon.”
In those dark, quiet hours before sunrise, only a few people walked the desolate sidewalks.
Many said they had no particular reason to be in the neighborhood. They just felt that being there, before the bustle of daybreak, was the right thing to do.
Jared Simmons, a 36-year-old who lives in the Fenway, stood in silence outside Marathon Sports at 4:30 a.m., a messenger bag slung over his shoulder and a “Boston Strong” sticker stuck to his baseball cap.
The street, he said, gave off an eerie feeling. Passing by the sites of the two explosions, he had an urge to cross to the other side of the street, to distance himself.
“I’m weirded out even walking past,” Simmons said. “I don’t think it will be possible to walk by this spot for a very long time and not think of the Marathon incident.”
Lacey Clements, a Waltham resident, had stayed up late working at his computer when he saw news that Boylston Street was scheduled to reopen. So, he came, never mind that it was 4 a.m.
“In a weird way, this is like therapy for me,” Clements said. “I just wanted to take a look at it, just to see — it’s remarkable.”
It felt strange to stand in front of the bombing sites, he said, because for the most part, they looked so ordinary, almost exactly as they had before Marathon Monday.
“You get a sense that something happened here, but, in a way, it’s almost back to normal,” Clements said. “This is Copley Square. This is Boston.”
As the sun crawled out to illuminate a gray sky, the street began to simmer with activity.
Two panhandlers set up shop at Exeter Street. Starbucks and Boston Sports Club welcomed customers with signs on the door. Duck Boats carrying tourists cruised past Copley Square.
Commuters scuttled out of the T station and toward their workplaces.
Many paused in front of the bombing sites, to take a photo, or just to stare.
Some drivers pulled over, aiming camera phones from their windows.
The memorials that sprung up in the aftermath of the explosions were moved Tuesday to a plaza on Copley Square.
On Wednesday, hundreds visited, including Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, in town with her husband for the funeral of MIT police officer Sean Collier, who officials say was slain by the Marathon bombing suspects.
Arriving just before 2:30 p.m., Biden walked slowly around the perimeter. She left a pink and orange bouquet and a pair of black running shoes at the memorial before slipping back into her motorcade.
For some, coming to Boylston Street was the only way they could move on.
“We needed to come in just to heal ourselves,” said Dick Smitley, 70, who walked down Boylston toward the memorial with a friend, both clad in 2013 Boston Marathon jackets.
The two, from Dedham, have run a water stand in Natick during the race for the past 15 years.
Sheila Mabry, 64, said she had been unsure about returning to the stretch of sidewalk where the bombings took place.
“I was so scared walking down here,” she said. “Then I got to Newbury Street, and it was Newbury Street. It was outdoor cafes and people walking arm in arm. It was beautiful.”
Standing in front of the memorial, she was glad she came.
“I feel like we did get Boston back.”