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Sunday, December 5, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Greeting Shoppers, Schell Calls For Time Of Healing

Seattle Times Business Reporter

To the sounds of Christmas music and children's laughter rather than shouts and sirens, thousands of shoppers flocked to downtown Seattle yesterday where Mayor Paul Schell was offering a personal apology.

"Let's heal the city," Schell said, posing for cameras at Westlake Park where he restarted the holiday carousel. "I understand everybody's angry and offended. I feel offended myself by the things that happened here. But it's time to heal."

Downtown merchants consider the losses they suffered serious and hoped to start making up for the past week. They estimated they lost more than $12 million in sales when curfews were in effect and many were forced to close or shorten hours. Damage estimates for broken windows and graffiti were put at $2.5 million.

Trying to put the protests in context, Schell said, "They were burning buses in London over this (WTO) meeting . . . we had broken glass."

But when asked whether he would ever want the WTO to return to Seattle, he answered with a stern "No."

The Westlake area had been a sealed crime scene since mass arrests Wednesday. But yesterday it was brimming with shoppers; other people appeared to be strolling the sidewalks to get a look at the damage. Some downtown streets, in fact, were clogged with traffic.

Trade delegates, meanwhile, were heading for the airport after negotiations to launch a new round of global trade talks collapsed.

The only police presence at Westlake was a single squad car.

Hundreds of National Guard troops and officers in riot gear had been stationed in the area just a day earlier as marchers massed downtown.

No matter where local residents may stand on the WTO, what happened in Seattle and what it means, capitalism was showing a healthy rebound yesterday.

"We're really pleased," Lucinda Payne of the Downtown Seattle Association said about sales. "We saw the kinds of numbers you see the day after Thanksgiving - which is pretty great."

From the carousel, the mayor and his entourage, which included City Councilman Richard McIver, went around to apologize for the losses merchants suffered.

Passing through the line at Starbucks across from Nordstrom on Pine Street, Schell was greeted by shoppers encouraged by clean-up efforts going on yesterday.

"I've never seen the city look so clean," said Katie Anderson, who was waiting in line at Starbucks with her husband. She said she blamed the protesters, and not the mayor, for what had happened.

Next door at Swissa Jewelers, which was vandalized during the protests, the mayor was not so cordially received.

The store's owner, Moti Swissa, questioned Schell: "Will they do anything about the people who did the damage?"

Schell assured him that would be the case but didn't provide details.

While he sped off to apologize to other residents and businesses on Capitol Hill, downtown shop managers, such as Karen Ping at the Eileen Fisher store on Pine Street, continued to clean up the damage.

"I think he made some poor choices," she said. "We had no protection."

Protesters broke windows and wrote graffiti on her store.

While most downtown shoppers and merchants spoke out against violence and vandalism, others saw it more as an understandable expression of anger.

Sipping a cup of Tully's coffee, Nancy Scheper-Hughes, a professor of anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley, said what struck her most about downtown Seattle was how it has lost its working-class character.

And while she said it was a cowardly act to go around breaking windows, Scheper-Hughes said the acts were useful as "a wake-up call" that the American dream of starting a small business had been replaced by giant chains such as Starbucks.

At Victor Steinbrueck Park, site of one of four "Community Day" gatherings Schell scheduled yesterday, a Peruvian guitar-and-flute group played for a handful of ribbon-tying volunteers and a few people scattered on benches.

At the nearby Pike Street Trading Co., workers were selling T-shirts that read, "I survived the battle in Seattle" and "I survived the WTO."

During the conference, they had sold shirts that read, "My trade minister went to Seattle and all I got was a lousy tariff."

Patrick Harrington's phone message number is 206-464-3328. His e-mail address is pharrington@seattletimes.com

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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