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‘I lost a lot of business’: Bomb threat disrupted downtown Lancaster restaurants, shops

  • By Chad Umble/LNP | LancasterOnline
Barber Patrick Hatt, left, cuts the hair of Thomas Hollow, of Mountville, at Black Comb Barbers shop along Orange Street in Lancaster on Tuesday March 26, 2024.

 Chris Knight / LNP | LancasterOnline

Barber Patrick Hatt, left, cuts the hair of Thomas Hollow, of Mountville, at Black Comb Barbers shop along Orange Street in Lancaster on Tuesday March 26, 2024.

Playtime, haircuts, a bridal shower and many meals were interrupted Saturday in downtown Lancaster after a report of a suspicious package at the Lancaster Public Library forced the cancellation of a Drag Queen Story Hour and then a bomb threat prompted evacuation orders.

The disruption proved to be just an inconvenience for customers and visitors, but for businesses in the area the turmoil forced them to miss out on tens of thousands of dollars in key sales during a busy, albeit rainy, early spring day in downtown Lancaster.

The blocks around the Lancaster Public Library at 151 N. Queen St. are filled with more than two dozen, mostly locally owned businesses, including restaurants, a barber shop, hotel, gift shops and a children’s play café. With thousands of extra visitors in town for the Zenkaikon anime and sci-fi convention, Saturday was set to be a banner sales day.

“For a March Saturday coupled with the Zenkaikon conference, we typically serve over 500 guests,” said Jeff Mitchell, owner of Lancaster Cupcake who estimates he lost out on nearly $10,000 in sales at the 24 W. Orange St. shop.

LNP | LancasterOnline checked with more than a dozen business owners in the area who described losing out on thousands of dollars of revenue each because of the threats.

Mohan Pradhan, an owner of Himalayan Curry Grill at 22 E. Orange St. and Diyo Fusion next to the library on Ewell Plaza, said he was only able to open briefly for lunch at the Himalayan Curry Grill.

“With both restaurants being closed, we probably suffered a loss of an estimated $9,000 to $10,000 as we were expecting a lot of traffic with all the events happening over the weekend in downtown Lancaster,” Pradhan said.

John Meeder, owner of Holiday Inn and The Imperial Restaurant at 26 E. Chestnut St., said he is still trying to calculate how much he lost after having to temporarily close the restaurant and send 400 hotel guests outside into the rain, including some conventioneers who were participating in gaming tournaments.

“The Zenkaikon is one of the first events of the year that fills the hotel and is needed after the slower winter months,” he said. “We are hopeful that they can forget the fiasco that was thrust upon our community and book again next year.”

Suspicious package, bomb threats

Extra security measures were in place ahead of the 1 p.m Drag Queen Story Hour, which had become a flashpoint of controversy in the week leading up to the event.

The measures included an early sweep of the area by bomb-sniffing dogs. Around 9:45 a.m., police found a suspicious package inside the library and began a search of the area. Just before 11 a.m., Lancaster Pride announced its decision to cancel the event. The package that aroused a dog’s suspicion turned out to contain coloring books.

Shortly after noon Saturday, a bomb threat was sent via email, specifically naming the drag event as the reason. The threat also included the home addresses of the executive director of the library, the president of LGBTQ+ advocacy group Lancaster Pride and an LNP | LancasterOnline reporter.

That bomb threat prompted a roughly three-hour evacuation order for a several block area that was lifted by 3:30 p.m.

Tenzin Norbu, owner of Norbu restaurant at 38 N. Christian St., said while he wasn’t forced to evacuate, his business cratered as people stayed away from downtown Lancaster.

“We were open but about 75 to 80% of our regular business was lost,” Norbu said. “We had no idea what was going on until after, when we walked outside and saw streets closed.”

Widening impact

The business impact that began in the morning for those closest to the library spread by the afternoon to cover several blocks in Lancaster’s busy downtown core.

Busy Bodies Play Café, which is right next to the library on Ewell Plaza, had been open for less than an hour when its workers and guests were told to evacuate because of the suspicious package found at the library. Co-owner Denise Evans said one boy had to be made to leave by his mother, “kicking and screaming from the space. … It was heartbreaking.”

Busy Bodies Play Café refunded everyone who had come and then wound up being closed all day, Evans said, causing the business to miss out on nearly $800 worth of revenue on what is typically its busiest day of the week.

Evans said she was glad there wasn’t actually any violence Saturday but worries about what could happen if the Drag Queen Story Hour is rescheduled.

“With the way things unfolded so quickly, and the risk that it imposes on the residents and business owners in the area, I don’t think the event should be rescheduled at the library,” Evans said.

At Black Comb Barbers, clients and barbers had spent most of the morning discussing the heavy police presence at the library, with news filtering in about what was going on. Around 1 p.m., just as several haircuts had begun, a Lancaster city police officer stopped at the 31 E. Orange St. shop and said that everyone had to leave right away. Barber Patrick Hatt said they asked if the haircuts that were in progress could at least be finished.

“He said, ‘Well, just do what you have to do and get out of here,’” Hatt recalled the officer saying. “The guys would have looked kind of ridiculous because they were halfway done. … They all would have left with full-on bowl cuts.”

George Katsaros, owner of Yorgos Restaurant & Lounge, said customers were slow to come back Saturday, although by 7 p.m. the 66 N. Queen St. restaurant was as full as he would typically expect.

Yet Katsaros said the disruption cost him at least $7,000 in lost revenue, including from roughly 50 people celebrating a bridal shower in an upstairs room who had to be told to leave. Katsaros said he is trying to figure out how to handle a refund for them.

“I lost out on a lot of business, but it was more important that everybody was safe,” he said.

Marshall Snively, president of the downtown business booster Lancaster City Alliance, said that while some owners took a financial hit, the response to the threats illustrated the resilience of the business community.

“The way the city and the business community responded to the situation on Saturday was extraordinary,” he said. “Putting safety first in a way that did not cause panic. Helping people pack up their food and projects and reopening when the order was lifted.”

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