HARRISBURG – Could coffee be what brings the world together?
At Little Amps Coffee Rosters near the state Capitol, they believe it’s possible.
David Forkkio has seen protesters from all sides, as well as the police, come in and enjoy a cup of coffee without any significant problems.
“I do remember moments when we had antifa people in the shop, as well as ‘Stop the Steal’ people,” said Forkkio, who works at coffee shop on State Street. “You could tell they were staring some daggers at each other, but, in general, most people coming in weren’t causing any problems. They just wanted their coffee.”
His hopeful assessment comes as many streets in Harrisburg are blocked off to traffic. Some downtown businesses are temporarily closed. Police officers in riot gear stand watchful at the barricaded Capitol while the National Guard helps fill out the ranks of police officers.
It has been that way since Sunday after the FBI warned of possible violent demonstrations at state Capitols around the country in the lead up to today’s Inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
Residents and businesses downtown are breathing a sigh of relief that, so far, there has been no violence.
Mike Dillman, who has lived in Harrisburg for about 10 years, and moved downtown in August, said he actually has a sense of relief from the National Guard and increased police presence near his home.
“It’s been reassuring with them here,” he said. Before that, “There was a lot of stress and concern, worrying about what is going to happen during all of this. Seeing them out here in force like this is reassuring.”
He said he has been very uncomfortable with the presence of guns at some of the demonstrations over the last year.
“A lot of times, it’s very scary with armed protests around,” he said. “It’s worrisome for me and my family.”
Many residents like Dillman are thankful that there have been no problems in the last few days.
“It’s been very quiet here in downtown, and we’re hoping that continues,” said Brad Jones, president and CEO of Harristown Enterprises, which owns numerous apartments in the downtown area of Harrisburg. “We’re hoping to get back to more pressing concern of getting out of this pandemic.”
Through the coronavirus pandemic, many downtown residents have been working from home, as many people have. They’ve been in their apartments, overlooking the Capitol, through months of demonstrations from both sides of the political aisle.
Luckily, the demonstrations have not been violent, for the most part, and have stayed centered around the Capitol, not directly affecting any of the properties, Jones said. One exception was a clash between police and demonstrators during a May 30 protest over the death of George Floyd.
But it has been a rough year. People who live downtown do so because they like to get out, walk around and mingle. They like to shop at the local businesses, grab a bite to eat at the corner restaurant and get in some use exercise along the river. Much of that has been hampered by the pandemic.
Businesses have taken a hit, as well.
Robert Warner, who cuts hair at Razor Ryan’s Barbershop at Court and Walnut streets, said business has been down about 50%, but once the pandemic passes, he hopes things get back to normal.
“Most of the customers here were state workers,” he said. Since most of them are not working downtown right now, it’s had an impact.
But the increased security over the last week hasn’t really diminished business any further, he said, and he tries not to let it affect his life. He said he focuses on the important things, like his family.
And people who threaten violence have personal issues in their lives that they need to deal with, Warner noted.
“What’s going on personally that you feel like you need to walk around with a gun just to prove a point?” he asked. “Every action starts a chain reaction. Because you’re out here walking around, the cops have to pull away from their duties.”
With the Inauguration today, he’s hoping the threat of violence is nearing its end, and “I just hope people do what’s right.”
And so far, with no violence reported, that has been the case.
At Little Amps, Forkkio said Sunday was an extremely busy day. Not with demonstrators, though. The coffee shop was packed, instead, with journalists, police officers and soldiers.
“We’re a business that’s been lucky enough to have a solid base and still do well in the middle of all this,” he said. It’s sometimes tense, but, “We don’t run into too many problems with people coming into the shop. Our customers are pretty nice.”
Most are regular customers, many of whom live or work downtown, and they’re all great and supportive, he said.
And, like the businesses, residents are just hoping for a return to normalcy.
“I don’t mind peaceful protests at all, but when you’re coming armed and ready for a battle, that’s problematic,” Dillman said.
The next step is getting through the pandemic, and Jones knows Harrisburg can do that. Even after nearly a year of the pandemic and many months of demonstrations, he said there is still a great demand for commercial and residential property in Harrisburg.
And hope for a bright future.
“That’s encouraging and exciting,” he said.