In the little town of Thurmont (population not quite 6,200), the recession has taken a heavy toll on Main Street, but things are picking up as residents prepare for next month's G8 Summit at nearby Camp David.
The Cozy Country Inn has been busy booking reservations, and Rocky's New York Pizza is scheduling extra employee shifts to prep more dough and sauce. The county sheriff's department is preparing contingency plans for large-scale protests and telling deputies to expect hours of overtime.
Even protest groups are getting ready, communicating with others about balky cellphone reception and related issues that might affect demonstrations against the Group of 8, a gathering of leaders from Germany, Japan and other world economic powers.
"They've never had anything of this magnitude at Camp David," said Blaine Young, president of the Frederick County Board of Commissioners.
When the summit convenes May 18 and 19 at the presidential retreat, nestled in Catoctin Mountain Park beyond the mottled springtime canopy of hills just outside Thurmont, it will bring a handful of the world's most powerful men and women to the area. Falling in line behind them will be their many aides, dozens of members of the press and, some believe, a crowd of protesters.
Young expects the event to have a positive impact for the area — whether the protesters come to town or not. "There will be other people who will need rooms to rent and who will eat dinner," he said.
Other residents are more wary. They're not sure whether the event will be a boost to the local economy, a burden on their small-town resources or a stage for heated protests.
"Everybody seems to be kind of up in the air about what's going to happen," said Virginia LaRoche, owner of the Timeless Trends Boutique, which sells antiques and home decorations. "We're just a small town. It's not like being on the world stage."
Thurmont residents have seen some big names and a few protesters pass through town before, during events at Camp David. But the G8 summit is different.
The summit is thought to be one of the largest events — if not the largest — ever on the secured presidential compound. The G8 is made up of heads of government from the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, and the United Kingdom.
Due to concerns about security and traffic, the county will close schools for a day; a nearby state park will be off-limits for three days. Young expects traffic congestion along Route 15 from Frederick to Thurmont, as motorcades make their way to Camp David.
John Kinnaird, a town commissioner and former chair of Thurmont's economic development committee, said businesses are hoping for a "shot in the arm" — whoever provides it.
"We realize there are going to be some protesters, and we welcome protesters," he said. "If they want to come up to Thurmont peaceably, that's fine with us."
Skip Misner, owner of the Thurmont Bar & Grill Restaurant, said he would prefer if protesters didn't come, but would love a boost in business. "That would be nice, because I'll tell you, things have been slow for everybody," he said.
By last week, journalists had already booked almost every room at the Cozy Country Inn — which has a small Camp David Museum with photos and other memorabilia — an employee said. The Super 8 has been booked for the summit ever since the White House announced last month that the event would be based at Camp David, said Rich Coover, the hotel's night manager.
Coover said he's heard rooms are also booked as far south as Frederick and as far north as Gettysburg.
'Plan for the worst'
The G8 Summit has a history of spawning protests. Demonstrations in Genoa in 2001 left one protester shot dead and many others wounded from what they claimed was police brutality.
The promise of protests in Chicago, where this year's summit was originally scheduled, has been credited by some protesters as being a key reason why the White House relocated the event to Camp David. But officials deny that sparked the change.
Now, because Camp David is so inaccessible, many in Thurmont and Frederick expect to bear the brunt of protests.
And they might be right.
In a series of posts on social media, protesters, including members of the Occupy movement, have expressed interest in coming to Frederick County.
Tom Dodge, a member of the Occupy Frederick movement, said he has been in talks with protesters in Chicago, New York, Cincinnati and other cities. He has noted the rural land near Camp David, and told them about the poor cellphone reception and lack of reliable Internet service.
"People from Chicago didn't quite understand that," Dodge said.
Authorities — from the U.S. Secret Service to the Thurmont police — are preparing for the possibility of protests.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources said it will close nearby Cunningham Falls State Park and its two campgrounds during the event, citing "security concerns" expressed by the Secret Service.
Sheriff Charles "Chuck" Jenkins, who has been with the county sheriff's office for 22 years, six as sheriff, said he has been putting plans in place for a slew of possible outcomes — from raucous protests to large, peaceful crowds.
Jenkins said deputies will have to put in overtime, and have their shifts restructured to meet the demands of the summit. They all just received updated in-service training on crowd control. And each deputy's equipment is being inventoried to be sure they are ready for crowds.
"The rumors [about protesters coming to town] are out there, they're flying around," said Jenkins. "We don't really know what to expect."
Jenkins' force has never dealt with large protests — they haven't happened in Frederick County during his tenure, he said — but members have been trained to handle crowds and will be supported by state police. The Secret Service will secure Camp David itself, he said.
Jenkins said the summit is an "unprecedented" event for the county, but his force is ready for "troublemakers" if they do show up.
After Jenkins raised the issue of traffic congestion and the potential for security concerns, officials decided to close the county's public schools on Frday, May 18.
"You just plan for the worst. That's all you can do," said Thurmont Police Chief Gregory Eyler. His force recently received new cellphones, purchased with grant funding from the Department of Homeland Security especially for the summit.
Possible protest spots
There are many locations, including the expansive, wooded Thurmont Community Park, that Eyler already has his eye on as possible gathering spots for protesters.
Barry Titler, director of public safety at Mount Saint Mary's University in nearby Emmitsburg, said he has told members of his staff who have requested vacation during the summit that they may be called in to work.
Dodge said protesters are coming, but there won't be trouble. "If this gets out of hand, we have to live with the consequences after, so we've made it clear from the get-go that we want it to be peaceful," he said.
How the closure of Cunningham Falls State Park will affect protesters' plans remains unclear.
Ed Donovan, a Secret Service spokesman, said the closure was not triggered by rumors that Occupy protesters were planning to camp there.
"That's usually one of the least of our concerns," he said. "These closures are security-related, certainly not free-speech-related or anything like that."
Donovan would not describe the security concerns, or what made the G8 Summit different from past events at Camp David.
Young said the event is going to be "extremely quick," lasting less than 48 hours, and that will limit its impact on Thurmont and the region.
But, he said, "that doesn't mean you won't have any issues."
Tony Testa, owner of Rocky's New York Pizza in town, is just hoping for the best.
For now, aside from scheduling extra employee shifts and loading up on the ingredients for his Italian fare —pizza, subs and pasta entrees — all he can do is wait.
"I hope we don't have any problems with protesters. This is a quiet town, and people aren't used to that stuff," he said. "But it could be a boost to the town."