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Portland businesses celebrate Fleet Week's return

Thousands of people are expected to pack downtown during Fleet Week. The annual Rose Festival event had to go virtual for the past two years due to the pandemic.

PORTLAND, Ore. — For the first time since 2019, Fleet Week ships are coming back to the Portland waterfront, and local business owners said they're eager for the boost that the ships and the other Rose Festival events will bring to downtown.

The annual visiting ship tradition dates back to 1907, and the Rose Festival event is one of the few U.S. ports of call for a courtesy visit from the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard and the Royal Canadian Navy.

But the ships have been missing from the waterfront for the past two years, with the various Rose Festival events switching to scaled-back or virtual formats during the pandemic. The full-scale festival ⁠— and the ships⁠ — are making their in-person return this week.

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Like in previous years, people will be able to tour the ships throughout Fleet Week. The ship tours are free and do not require a ticket, although visitors must be vaccinated against COVID-19. The ships will stick around until June 13.

Organizers said that during ordinary years, the Rose Festival brings in around $50 million each year to the local economy, and local business owners are eager to see that level of public support.

At Don Jalapeno Mexican Food in downtown Portland, owner Leo Abilla said he's excited for the crowds. 

"I'm so happy because we miss those festivals a lot," Abilla said. "We like to see new people coming."

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Abilla said he hopes business will be booming at his food cart this weekend.

"Family here, family in Mexico, we help them, they depend on us, they depend on me, I depend on my customers," Abilla said. "If I have customers, I have business, if I have no customers then my business is not going to be successful."

Over at The Block food truck in Pioneer Square, Ben Isaacson said the last two years have been a pretty slow downtown. He said things have just started to pick up again.

"Having events back in general is huge, even though the offices aren't filling up yet," Isaacson said. "We're feeling really good about having events back."

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