Restaurateurs say Pope Francis has scared off customers

Pope Francis arrives in his popemobile to speak in front of Independence Hall, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015, in Philadelphia. (Tony Gentile/Pool Photo via AP)

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Restaurant owners across Philadelphia are complaining that heavy security from Pope Francis’ visit scared off their customers.

Stephen Starr operates more than 20 restaurants in the city. He told the Philadelphia Inquirer the slowdown has been so bad that “this affected business worse than Hurricane Sandy.”

The website Open Table shows reservations are readily available at prime times Saturday at even the most popular spots.

Organizers have long said the World Meeting of Families that drew the pope to Philadelphia would be an economic boon to the city. But as the event drew closer, city officials were criticized for issuing dire warnings of travel difficulties and service shutdowns.

Schools and many businesses closed, and many residents left town in the days leading up to Francis’ arrival.

Organizers still expect Saturday night’s concert headlined by Aretha Franklin to attract hundreds of thousands, and they say more than a million will watch Francis celebrate Mass on Sunday.

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