RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
When Beijing won the Olympics seven years ago, many people in the city saw dollar signs. Businesses expected tourists and locals to spend like crazy. As NPR's Frank Langfitt reports, it hasn't quite worked out that way.
(Soundbite of dishes clanking)
FRANK LANGFITT: It's after 6:00 on a weekday evening in the financial district. Hu Chong(ph) gazes across a dining room in the restaurant he manages. It specializes in shark fin, a Chinese delicacy. But tonight, there's just one diner eating a bowl of noodles. Hu says business is down 30 percent from the same time last year. He thought it would be different.
Mr. HU CHONG (Restaurant Manager): (Through translator) I thought it would be good, because there are lots of bosses. They have some friends, and they would invite their friends to Beijing to watch the Olympics. Now, actually, we don't have that many Olympic guests coming here.
LANGFITT: On the street outside the restaurant, there's plenty of parking. Hu says local businessmen just aren't coming around as often.
Mr. CHONG: (Through translator) It's probably because everyone's watching the competition, and there's the even and odd restriction. It's not convenient for some people to go out.
LANGFITT: To cut down on pollution, the government makes people drive on alternate days, depending on the last digit of their license plates. The regulation has cut traffic by at least half, but it's also kept many people home and hurt businesses around town. Even if people want to drive, they're encouraged not to. Dang Guoying is spending most of the Olympics working from home. He's director of Macroeconomics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Mr. DANG GUOYING (Director of Macroeconomics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences): (Through translator) All the work units have not necessarily made an official statement or regulation, but there is a message. During the Olympics, do not run back and forth very often to work. This will increase the pressure on transportation.
LANGFITT: Traffic restrictions aren't the only thing keeping people out of Beijing. High prices are, too.
Mr. DANG TONG CHING(ph) (Manager of China Comfort Travel Office): (Through translator) Five-star hotels have gone up by 300 to 600 percent.
LANGFITT: That's Dang Tong Ching. He runs an office of China Comfort Travel. Even hotels on the city's less fashionable west side are charging more than $500 a night. And many still have rooms available. Dang says high room prices cost him several hundred customers this month. The Olympics don't always deliver economically. Many tourists stayed away from Athens four years ago because of security worries. But here in Beijing, not every business is suffering.
(Soundbite of business on Silk Street in Beijing)
Unidentified Woman #1: Hi, how are you? Do you need a fan?
Unidentified Woman #2: No, kites. Have you kites? Butterfly, dragon, here you go.
Unidentified Woman #3: Where's the stamps, stamps?
LANGFITT: This is Silk Street. It's a six-story market that sells everything from North Face jackets to pearl earrings. It's also a famous destination that's on just about ever tourist itinerary. Leo Hung Sho(ph) runs a stall here. Business is booming. At the moment, she's trying to sell a Chinese stone hand stamp and ring every cent out of the sale.
Ms. LEO HUNG SHO (Merchant at Silk Street): Okay, okay. I give you a gooder price. This is cheap. American dollar, okay, $10.
Mr. BILL ROY (Customer, Director of Operations, USA Shooting): No, no, no. Fifteen RNB.
LANGFITT: Leo's price is absurd, and her potential customer, Bill Roy, knows it. Roy is Director of Operations for USA Shooting, and he has a feel for the theatrics of haggling in China.
Mr. ROY: I'm not going to have enough money to get back to my hotel. I'm going to have to walk all night to my hotel, be tired, sweaty, just because you're a good salesman.
LANGFITT: Roy gets the stamps for about three bucks a piece. It's a good deal, but Leo is unphased. With Olympic visitors flooding Silk Street these days, she says business is up 40 percent.
Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Beijing.