WASHINGTON (AP) — Visitors lined up waiting for Washington's museums to finally reopen Thursday after a 16-day government shutdown that has cost each site money in lost gift store sales, theater tickets and concessions.
The Smithsonian Institution museums, the National Gallery of Art and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum all returned to regular operating hours. Tours also resumed at the U.S. Capitol visitor's center, and barriers were removed at the memorials on the National Mall.
The Smithsonian's National Zoo won't reopen until Friday because the staff needs more time to reopen the large park. Its popular panda cam, though, resumed showing pictures of the zoo's giant panda cub and mother.
The Smithsonian attractions have lost about $2.8 million in revenue from visitors since Oct. 1, said spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas. Many tourists plan their trips long in advance and have been disappointed by the closure over the past two weeks, she said.
"People come from all over the world to visit Washington, and a big part of their visit is the Smithsonian," St. Thomas said. "We have people who plan their trips and had to cancel, so we have disappointed tourists."
It's not the busiest tourist season on the National Mall. Still the Smithsonian counted 400,000 visitors the week before the shutdown. Officials believe they lost hundreds of thousands of visitors since Oct. 1.
Some special exhibits, including Leonardo da Vinci's rarely shown notes and sketches of human flight 400 years before the airplane, were cut short due to the closure. The da Vinci materials are on view at the Smithsonian for another week but will soon be sent back to Italy.
Tourism officials said hotel occupancy rates in Washington were down 9.3 percent the first week of the shutdown, compared with last year, but hotel occupancies were up nearly 2 percent during the second week.
Some tourists have been anxiously hoping for news of the government's reopening all week with one thing in mind: visiting the museums.
"If they hadn't reopened today, we would have been a little cross," said Bob Vincent, a retired scientist from Adelaide, Australia, who was visiting the National Air and Space Museum on Thursday with his wife, Annette.
Ronald and Nicky Joyner brought their two children from Scotland for a fall vacation, visiting New York City, Philadelphia and then Washington. They missed seeing the Statue of Liberty in New York but were all smiles as they examined John Glenn's Mercury space capsule at the space museum Thursday.
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