Workers back, but in no way business as usual
Boylston Street was no longer a crime scene Tuesday, but it still felt that way to many business owners and employees who made a long, sad walk to workplaces that seemed frozen in time. Doors were tagged in green paint by authorities, either “OK” or “Locked.” Metal Marathon barricades were stacked like cord wood the length of Boylston.
For the first time in eight days, businesses and residents returned to the site of the bombings, most with trepidation.
“I’m just trying to pull it together,” said Mark Hagopian, operating partner of the Charlesmark Hotel, before mopping blood from the lobby floor. “It’s eerie. It just feels haunted a little bit.” Laura Trust, president of Finagle a Bagel, said she approached her business with a heavy heart. “Just walking down Boylston like this is strange,” she said, adding that her company’s losses pale in comparison to the lives lost or forever changed by the bombings.
“You think about the families and the people hurt. Business seems so insignificant,” Trust said. “But you’ve got to move on and get back to work. This is all part of getting the city running again.”
The employees of the Charlesmark Hotel approached their workplace with knots in their stomachs and tears in their eyes.
Inside, donning matching pink jackets that they last wore on Marathon Monday, they mopped up bloodstains from the charcoal gray tiles, brushed shattered glass off the sleek bar top, and hugged each other. While everyone got busy cleaning, many said they could not keep their thoughts from the horrific events of last Monday.
“I’m still shaken up,” said manager Leah Bishop, as she filled trash bags with week-old cheese cubes, crackers, moldy baby carrots, and near empty bottles of Corona beer with limes.
“I’m a little lost,” she added.
Hundreds of residents and employees of the area first mustered at the Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center and then in small groups were escorted to darkened buildings in the retail hub of the city.
The walk down Boylston brought a mix of anxiety and defiance as business owners fretted about damage and losses, and in the next breath, pledged to reopen even stronger. Once inside their workplaces, many employees felt overwhelmed by horrible memories, especially those nearest the two blast sites.
Businesses such as the Charlesmark were instructed to wash, rinse, sanitize all cups and dishes, drain ice machines, clear beverage lines of sediment, and double bag all trash. They were unable to receive deliveries or customers, as the area remained closed to the public Tuesday to allow the city to finish cleaning the scene and inspecting buildings for structural damage.
Boylston Street is expected to be completely open Wednesday.
Inside the many stores and restaurants, employees cleaned blood and debris, consoled colleagues, and chased away rodents and fruit flies that had moved in during the lock-down following the Marathon Monday attacks that killed three people and maimed and injured at least 260.
At Marathon Sports, at the site of the first explosion, cleaners in biohazard suits scrubbed the pavement and ripped up bloodstained carpets. By 2 p.m., the store resembled a normal business under renovation, with construction workers and employees hustling back and forth to make repairs.
But reminders of the pain and destruction remained: Outsiders coming onto the property were required to wear biohazard booties to prevent exposure to any contamination.
“We’re OK. We’re managing,” said Colin Peddie, Marathon Sports’ president. He nodded toward a large window in the front of the store, where employees posted a “Boston Strong” sign that has become a slogan of the city’s recovery.
Mike Wiseman, a principal for the biohazard cleanup company 24 Trauma, helped remove railings outside Peddie’s store. He and his workers were on their 24th consecutive hour of cleaning businesses.
“It’s tragic and humbling to be here because you see all the pain and suffering that happened,” Wiseman said. “So many people have been put out by this. You just want to help get them back to a sense of normalcy.”
Just before noon Tuesday, employees of Whiskey’s Smokehouse walked down Boylston, bracing themselves for what they would encounter inside the restaurant.
The air reeked of spoiled food as about 17 staffers filled trash bags with rotten tomatoes, bottles of sour cream, and other debris that had piled up on the floor from the chaotic evacuation last Monday.
“It’s as bad as I thought,” said Whiskey’s general manager Becky Caloggero as she surveyed the scene. She estimated the restaurant’s losses from the bombing and weeklong closure would exceed $250,000.
She said the explosions, and the hiatus from work, had been draining on the restaurant’s staff. “Everyone is emotionally spent and exhausted but anxious to get back to work,” Caloggero said.
Inside the Globe Bar & Cafe, open bottles of white zinfandel and Sauvignon blanc lay undisturbed as workers began to empty ice bins, clean sinks with bleach, and close out tabs from customers who left their credit cards at the restaurant.
“I don’t know what to feel right now — it’s a tense time,” said Con Coen, a Globe bar manager.
Hazmat vehicles, police, and EMTs hummed along Boylston throughout the day. City workers surveyed owners to catalog details about building damages, spoiled food, and lost revenue. They also collected insurance information to help expedite reimbursement for merchants who have lost tens, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars in recent days.
Kevin Houlker, property manager for 755 Boylston St., watched crews board windows on the eight-story building, near where the second blast seriously injured two employees of the Forum restaurant on the ground floor. The restaurant was covered in black panels; nearly every window was shattered or blown off its hinges.
At Life is Good, employees collected wallets, bags, and laptops that were left behind. Scattered throughout the office were the orange and blue bracelets they had handed out at the Marathon, emblazoned with the words “Positive Purpose” and “Good Vibes.”
On Wednesday, workers from the company’s office on Boylston Street will join employees from its Newbury Street store and walk to the bombing sites to heal together. The merchandise store sells items with the company’s logo and slogans.
“Yes it was challenging. Sadness hit all of us, and we all process it differently and uniquely,” company executive Roy Heffernan said of trying to live the “Life is Good” mission of optimism over the past week.
“But at the end of the day what matters is how quickly we turn what was real tragedy into something that binds us and brings us closer together.”