Philadelphia in shutdown mode for Pope Francis visit

Pope dolls? Pope beer? Philly's got that.
Pope dolls? Pope beer? Philly's got that.

In Philadelphia, people are starting to refer to the arrival of Pope Francis as the Pope-storm or "Popemageddon."

America's fifth largest city is treating his visit much like a major weather event -- shutting down roads, sending out alerts and stockpiling supplies.

Many businesses are being forced to close Friday and through the weekend. Monday is up in the air because no one really knows how quickly barricades will come down for the roads to re-open.

The pope doesn't even arrive until Saturday morning, but the lockdown starts Friday. Metal fences are already going up and some people are going through hoops to enter their offices.

"The only way you can possibly enter the building [Friday] is to get prior Secret Service clearance," says Ed Radetich, a partner at the accounting firm Heffler, Radetich & Saitta, which is located in the heart of Philly. Employees have been joking they are "in a DMZ (demilitarized) zone."

Starbucks (SBUX) is stockpiling supplies. Many of them have added two or more extra refrigerators in the stores. Why? Because there's no chance of getting deliveries when the thirsty crowds show up. Thursday night will be the last shipment until Monday.

"We're just trying to make sure we're prepared for however it might be," said a Starbucks employee at the 34th and Chestnut street location. She's just glad she lives close by and can walk to work.

Related: Pope Francis: Critic of capitalism since 1990s


People eagerly awaiting the arrival of their iPhone 6's might have to make other arrangements. UPS (UPS) and FedEx (FDX) have warned customers they won't be able to make some deliveries, especially on Friday.

The University of Pennsylvania and other universities in the area have canceled all classes and events on Friday.

The pope will be in Philadelphia all day Saturday and Sunday before flying back to Rome around 8 p.m.

A spokesman from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation said the state is still unsure when roads will re-open Monday.

Related: Welcome to our big, messy religious debate, Francis

"We've been working months and months to make this as easy as possible," says Rich Kirpkatrick, spokesman for PennDOT, the state's transportation agency. "This is probably the largest event of this magnitude that I've been involved in in my 20-some years with the agency."

The state and city are setting up portable bathrooms and extra water stations at rest stops on the highways into the city and around town. Estimates are that the event will draw over 1 million visitors.

Most will have to take the regional rail services into the city, known as SEPTA, because roads will be closed.

Philadelphia is also hosting the world's largest gathering of Catholics, called the World Meeting of Families, this week. Pope Francis will address that conference on Sunday.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike has been warning drivers to "expect congestion to be worse than a snowstorm or holiday."

"In all my years in center city Philly, I've never seen anything like it," says Raditch. As a Catholic, he's excited about the visit but wishes the city hadn't gone to such extremes. "It's fun unless you live here."

Radetich remembers when Pope John Paul II visited Philly in 1979. He and some colleagues went to the open-air mass. Everything was back to normal by 5 p.m. or so, he says.

Not so with Pope Francis.

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