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Comptroller: visit Baltimore for July 4, or 'give into the bad guys'

Comptroller Peter Franchot buys a bottle of limoncello from the Trinacria Italian Café. He visited the café Thursday as part of a tour of Baltimore aimed at promoting the city before the Fourth of July.
Comptroller Peter Franchot buys a bottle of limoncello from the Trinacria Italian Café. He visited the café Thursday as part of a tour of Baltimore aimed at promoting the city before the Fourth of July. (Talia Richman, Baltimore Sun)

The windows of the Trinacria Italian Cafe, which were shattered by rocks thrown during April's protests, have been repaired, no longer showing any sign of the city's unrest.

But the restaurant on W. Centre Street is full of other subtle reminders of the rioting — six newly installed security cameras, a piece of paper hung on a fridge with well-wishes from the community and, as of Thursday, a certificate of recognition from the state comptroller honoring the cafe's contribution to the city.

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Comptroller Peter Franchot toured downtown Baltimore Thursday, stopping first at the Trinacria Italian Cafe, before going to the National Aquarium and then to the Captain James Landing Restaurant in an effort to promote the city before this weekend's Independence Day festivities.

"Our message today is that Baltimore is a gem of city and it's important during the Fourth of July that people come down here to patronize businesses like [Trinacria]," Franchot said. "You can't gloss it over — the riots had a negative impact on the small businesses, but boy, there's so many things to enjoy.

"The last thing we need is people throwing up their hands and saying, 'Geez, I can't do anything to help the city,'" he said. "Yes you can, you can come out and spend your money down here."

A fireworks show at Baltimore's Inner Harbor is planned for 9:30 p.m. Saturday. Last year's display drew around 200,000. Tom Noonan, the president and CEO of Visit Baltimore, said he can't predict the kinds of crowds this holiday weekend will bring as the city and its tourism industry adjust to "the new normal" this summer.

"It's hard to say what it'll be like for the Fourth of July," Noonan said. "We saw great numbers at the Preakness and hotels are doing better than I thought. All signs are pointing to recovery so we may have a very normal-sized crowd, but it's all guesswork this summer."

Local businesses and attractions face lasting damage after the city was thrust into unrest following the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old man who died after suffering severe spinal injuries while in police custody.

The Small Business Administration estimated $9 million in damages for about 285 businesses, and local attractions saw large dips in attendance during the ensuing weeks. At the Maryland Science Center, attendance was down by about 70 percent in the week after the rioting.

Vincent Fava, the owner of Trinacria Italian Cafe, said business has "slowed a little" at his Centre Street location, but his other restaurant on Paca Street, which he calls more of a destination spot, "has been really impacted."

"No doubt the riots and ensuing crime wave have hurt the economy," Franchot said. "I can't make that go away. I hope everybody comes back, but that's a process and I'm a realist when I say a lot of damage has been done to the reputation of the city. But is it still a diverse, vibrant wonderful place? Yes."

Other Fourth of July fireworks shows in the area will be held at the Annapolis City Dock, Loch Raven Academy in Towson, Tydings Park in Havre de Grace, and Granville Gude Park in Laurel. A full list of fireworks shows in the region can be found here.

Franchot said he hopes people choose Baltimore as their holiday destination.

"We're not going to prevail if we give into the bad guys by not coming to Baltimore City and not enjoying these wonderful cafes and sites," he said. "If we avoid Baltimore, we're giving in. That's the message to send on the Fourth of July."

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