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Charlottesville Businesses Worry Violent Rally Will Scare Tourists Away

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Several downtown stores have put up signs and placards declaring: "This is Our Town" and "If Equality and Diversity Aren't for You, Then Neither Are We."

Life in Charlottesville, Va., has been disrupted by the deadly violence at a white supremacist rally over the weekend. On the eve of the memorial for one of the victims, counterprotester Heather Heyer, President Trump blamed those counterprotesters — what he called the "alt-left" – for stoking the violence.

After Trump's remarks, Charlottesville Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy had to control his anger. He says the president is showing where his loyalties lie.

"That is just extremely disappointing that he would coin the term such as the 'alt-left' and try to place blame in some form or fashion on individuals, who according to clergy members, were saving their lives," Bellamy says.

Standing near the disputed statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in the same park where Saturday's rally erupted in violence, Bellamy says Trump's message encourages hate groups to hide behind the First Amendment.

"So if these individuals want to continue to come back, that's on them. But they're not welcome here," Bellamy says. "I hope they got that message loud and clear."

A small group of neo-Nazis got that message at a local barbecue joint, Ace Biscuit & Barbecue. Owner Brian Ashworth says he had a confrontation with a group of customers on Sunday.

"One of them started putting Hitler salutes out there and that's when I told them they had to go," Ashworth says.

He's angry they chose Charlottesville as a battleground.

"If they're affiliated with a group that's associated with lethal violence or violence of any kind, they're not welcome here," Ashworth says.

Downtown, many restaurants and storefronts along an 8-block pedestrian mall closed shop altogether on Saturday, the day of the rally.

"It's been devastating," says Joan Fenton, who owns a gift shop and women's clothing store on the mall.

She's head of the downtown business association, and says the biggest fear is that people will be afraid to visit.

"This was like a little invasion of people who have left town, but as a result people think maybe they shouldn't come to Charlottesville," she says. "That's not who we are."

Several downtown stores have put up signs and placards declaring: "This is Our Town" and "If Equality and Diversity Aren't for You, Then Neither Are We."

Mike Rodi first put one in the window of his restaurant, Rapture, before a KKK rally earlier this summer.

"If people were going to come out in support of the Klan they needed to know upon walking into my restaurant: We do have diverse customers; we do have diverse employees," Rodi says.

"If they are going to have a problem with that, they shouldn't even step inside."

Rodi's restaurant is on the corner where a car plowed into counterprotesters. He says it feels like the city is under siege.

"My hope is a lot of people wake up and say wow, 'What did we do?' " Rodi says. "And that any further calls to action by these kinds of groups will result in diminished return."

But Rodi says he fears President Trump's comments will only serve to embolden hate groups, making it easier for them to get their next permit to demonstrate in Charlottesville.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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