Boston Marathon Bombing: One Year Later, a New Normal
By and large, Chris Loper says, it didn't take long for work to become work again.
Forum Bar & Restaurant, the 300-person-capacity eatery where he works as general manager, had been shut down for four months after the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15, 2013. It reopened to the public to much fanfare on a Friday night in August. It was the last business shut down by the bombings to reopen.
National and local media surrounded the comeback, which many took to symbolize as a turning of the page on Boston's biggest tragedy in generations. Then-Boston Mayor Thomas Menino was on hand for a ribbon cutting, and New Orleans brass band Rebirth fittingly played on the streets. The restaurant itself had undergone a major renovation, featuring a redesigned first floor, a new bar, and much more. But for all the hype, when the doors opened, healing a city quickly transformed back to restaurant work, says Loper.
That meant running food, clearing tables, joking around in the back. How long did it take for the rust to shake off? "Maybe 15 minutes," Loper says with a laugh.
The New Normal
While the work itself came back quickly at Forum, which is one of four establishments owned by the Boston Nightlife Ventures group, that's not to say things are back to normal since the bombings.
In fact, one year later, there's a new normal.
Loper and the restaurant's director of events and marketing, Erinn Fleming, are hesitant to put it that way. The attack, which killed three and injured more than 260, has unquestionably changed both the city of Boston and the restaurant's place within it.
There are still the pangs. For Loper, when he hear sirens heading down Boylston Street, it sends him back to that once-sanguine April day. Employees who were there during the marathon and returned to work after the reopening--about a third of the 40-person staff--have expressed similar feelings, Loper says.
Fleming says she and other employees were unable to work the day of the Boston Red Sox World Series victory parade in November, for example, due to anxieties born of a high-density crowd that was all too familiar.
There's also the surreal experience, Loper says, brought on when bombing victims return to the restaurant. Emotions run high. Once, Loper says, a couple of months after reopening, a victim returned to the restaurant. She saw the employee who held her while she lay on the ground. They embraced. They cried.
No, these are not the signs of normalcy, at least not as it used to be.
Getting Back to Business
But neither is the place Forum has taken in the community. A year ago, that wouldn't have been normal, either.
The restaurant has sold out its Marathon watching party this year, something it hasn't done in years past. It saw a city celebrate its return in August and continue to support it, showing up night after night for dinner. Forum had already been popular since opening in 2011, in prime real estate in a popular dining area, but now it's part of the fabric of the community.
"It's a stronger connection," Loper says. "It's a combination of things. People want to be supportive. There's also some (visitors) who come out of curiosity."
Loper and Fleming are quick to point out--and it goes without saying, this can't really be considered a positive. Of course, they would have preferred to avoid this new normal. Still, the support is appreciated.
The mindset is consistent with the general feeling of Bostonians. A new poll out of Western New England University showed that 73 percent of Massachusetts residents believe the bombings changed Boston forever. Of that set, 62 percent say the change was for the better--reflecting a surge in civic pride.
Other Boston businesses affected by the bombings have said they've felt similar support. As The Boston Globe reports, down the street at sports apparel store Marathon Sports, the site of the finish line and the first bomb:
Customer traffic nearly doubled in the month after the attack, and now the crowds on an ordinary Tuesday afternoon swell to the size of a Saturday rush from before the bombing.Not everyone is a Boston runner. Travelers from all over the world stop by to thank the staff, to buy a Boston Strong T-shirt, or to say a prayer.
Meg Mainzer-Coen, the president and executive director of neighborhood business advocacy group Back Bay Association, says this customer-based support has been consistent since the bombings.
The neighborhood was more or less shut down for a couple of weeks after the tragedy. But as soon as businesses began reopening, "The sidewalks of Boylston were so full--there was such an influx of people coming to shop and dine to make sure those businesses received the support from their community," Mainzer-Coen says. "From then until now, there's been a lot of consideration for those businesses."
In the case of Forum, which didn't open again to customers for months, its immediate support came from fellow businesses. Fleming says she was touched by the number of restaurants that worked with Forum to help host events previously booked at the restaurant, or that helped to hire displaced Forum workers.
The 2014 Marathon
Loper says there is a mix of anxiety and excitement on the Forum staff as this year's Marathon approaches.
The reasons for anxiety are obvious. The reasons for excitement, though, are many.
For one, the restaurant's Marathon party on April 21 will be jam packed, having sold out weeks in advance. The party is hosted in conjunction with former New England Patriot Joe Andruzzi, as a team of racers run on behalf of his charity foundation. (Andruzzi hosted the annual party at Forum restaurant last year as well, and a photo of him carrying a woman to safety following the attack became an enduring image in its aftermath.)
Loper says a number of employees who left Forum after the attack have also resolved to be at the restaurant the day of the race, with one employee traveling across the country after moving to Colorado in the past year.
Perhaps most exciting: Fleming is running the race as a member of Andruzzi's team. She's never run one before and she had never planned to. But this year, she says, she was "compelled."
And though she'll run for the Andruzzi Foundation, she knows she'll also represent Forum. The business that never asked for the spotlight to shine, at least not like this, but finds itself standing in it all the same.
It might as well run.