By Brett Zongker
WASHINGTON — Visitors lined up for Washington’s museums to finally reopen Thursday after a 16-day government shutdown that cost each site money in lost retail sales, theater tickets and concessions.
The Smithsonian museums, National Gallery of Art and U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum returned to regular operating hours. Tours resumed at the U.S. Capitol visitor’s center, and barriers were removed at the memorials on the National Mall.
The National Zoo won’t reopen until Friday because the staff needs time to reopen the large park. Its popular panda cam, though, resumed showing live video of the zoo’s giant panda cub and mother.
The shutdown’s impact was already being tallied, though. The Smithsonian lost about $2.8 million in revenue from visitors since Oct. 1, said spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas. “People come from all over the world to visit Washington, and a big part of their visit is the Smithsonian,” St. Thomas said. “So we have disappointed tourists.”
October is 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.
Some tourists have been anxiously awaiting news of the government’s reopening with one thing in mind: visiting the museums. “If they hadn’t reopened today, we would have been a little cross,” said Bob Vincent of Adelaide, Australia. He was visiting the National Air and Space Museum on Thursday with his wife, Annette.
Friends had warned Christy and Maury Mayer of Reno, Nev., to cancel plans to visit Washington because of government gridlock, but the couple decided to visit anyway, bringing along their teenage sons.
Part of the trip turned into a civics lesson, seeing the political drama come to an end. The family waited for three hours Wednesday to watch the Senate vote to reopen the government.
“We stuck it out, and we’ve been busy every day,” Christy Mayer said.
While many attractions were closed, the family took a trolley tour of the monuments by moonlight. They visited Arlington National Cemetery, George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate and saw 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,” said Christy Mayer as the family examined the Apollo 11 capsule and other spacecraft. “This is our one day.”