Happy hosts in South End

Gary Ritacco prepared his Uniform boutique display window for President Obama. Gary Ritacco prepared his Uniform boutique display window for President Obama. (Essdras M Suarez/ Globe Staff)
By Akilah Johnson
Globe Staff / May 18, 2011

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The mannequins inside Uniform men’s boutique in the South End got new uniforms themselves yesterday. Red, white, and blue placards that read “2012" dangled from the necks of body forms, some dressed in khaki-colored blazers and plaid shirts.

“I’m beyond excited,’’ owner Gary Ritacco said as he walked around the store and updated his displays. Above him hung four new posters that have become synonymous with President Obama, the stylized stencil portraits with the word “progress’’ underneath.

“As a small business owner, I think it’s important to show that small businesses support our president,’’ Ritacco said.

Restaurants, spas, and boutiques up and down the Tremont Street corridor in the South End readied themselves, logistically and personally, for today’s visit from the president. They warned clients and employees about parking restrictions and potential gridlock, primped storefronts, and waited with excited anticipation, hoping they will be able to catch a glimpse of the leader of the free world.

While the president, in town to raise money for his reelection campaign, might find a tougher audience in other corners of a country still limping out of a bruising recession, the chatter on the South End’s brick row house-lined streets suggests that this neighborhood remains firmly in Obama’s camp.

“I wish I could go,’’ said local artist Marie Corcoran, while walking her copper-colored rescue dog, Beau. But Corcoran and her business partner at Gifted, a store that sells handmade jewelry and crafts, plan to show their backing by transforming their display window into something akin to: “We still support you, and we’re excited that you’ll run again.’’

Some 900 supporters are expected to show up today for a fund-raiser at the Cyclorama at the Boston Center for the Arts, where Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell and All-Star Ray Allen are also scheduled to attend. Tickets for the event on Tremont sold for $500 for “supporters,’’ $1,000 for “friends,’’ and $10,000 for “host committee’’ designees.

Ritacco will not just be an excited shop owner at today’s fund-raiser but also a “friend,’’ paying $2,000 for him and his partner to attend the event only a few doors down from the store. Neighboring business owner Suzan Griffith, proprietor of Sooki, said she could not afford to attend the fund-raiser but supports Obama all the same.

Griffith said she is trying to persuade her daughter to make a special trip into the city from Wellesley with her 1-year-old granddaughter “just so she can say she met the president,’’ even though the most they can probably hope for is a quick glimpse of Obama.

It could be a once in a lifetime opportunity, said Griffith, who once spotted Bill and Hillary Clinton in Nantucket.

Besides the awe-factor, Griffith said, there are practical expectations about today’s presidential visit: Crowds of onlookers mean potential customers.

Scott St. Cyr, who owns a spa called étant across the street, is a fan of Obama’s, as well. Despite having a full client roster today, he plans to “stand outside like a fool’’ eagerly hoping to grab a look at Obama.

“We have, like, a good 15 people booked, so that’s going to be a challenge, but we’ll figure it out,’’ St. Cyr said. Spa workers called each client and told them to allow extra travel time because of the event, which begins at 3 p.m., but none canceled.

The Boston Police Department would not disclose where parking would be restricted or where commuters should anticipate delays, citing safety concerns. But lining both sides of Tremont from Berkeley to Dartmouth streets are red and white signs that say: “No Stopping. Boston Police. Special Event. Wednesday 11 a.m.-8 p.m.’’ The signs also can be spotted on Clarendon, Warren, and Montgomery streets.

“I think we’re all going to be inconvenienced a bit, but I’m thrilled that he thinks our neighborhood is good enough for him to come here,’’ St. Cyr said.

Jason Chehade agreed.

“It just makes you feel like you’re on the map a little bit,’’ said Chehade, who lives and works in the South End. He owns Motley clothing store on Tremont and plans to leave his car at home today. “I tell people, ‘Oh, you know the president is coming here,’ and they’re like ‘president of what?’ And I’m like, ‘President of the United States.’ ’’

And being able to say that, he said, is worth the walk to work.

Akilah Johnson can be reached at