The day after Rita passed through, businesses remained shuttered in the nation's fourth-largest city, which was just beginning to show signs of life on a sunny Sunday.

Although officials were on the television and radio begging people not to come back to the Houston area just yet, hoping to avoid a repeat of the evacuation's traffic snarl, by Sunday morning more and more cars began streaming onto the highways that surround the city.

Early Sunday afternoon, restaurants and shops remained closed in the 17-block Theater District and in the Museum District. Downtown was quiet, with the Hilton Americas-Houston the only place that showed signs of life. Its gift shop was open, and its restaurants had a limited menu. If people wanted a bite to eat somewhere else, they were out of luck.

At the Texas Medical Center, which contains 13 hospitals and several medical schools, not even a Starbucks was open. Joggers ran on the paths around Rice University, and families took walks. Dozens of bikers were taking advantage of the nearly empty streets. Near the museums a few workers picked up sticks and branches downed by the storm.

"Usually the restaurants and bars along Main are where all the happenings are on weekends," said Rhisa Wilson, the manager of the gift shop at the Hilton, which is a few blocks off Main Street.

Business owners in this area will probably feel the pain of several days of halted commerce, as most began to close Thursday in preparation for Rita. They had already lost most paying customers, who had evacuated.

By Friday afternoon, the city was a ghost town. The MetroRail that connects downtown, Reliant Park, midtown and Texas Medical Center would halt at its designated stops up and down Main Street, but it was empty.

The storm that locals feared would pummel their city left them with little damage other than broken tree limbs. After the worst of the storm passed, traffic lights were switching from green to yellow to red on empty streets. Electricity remained on in most of the area, and the rain had halted.

"We don't usually evacuate the whole city of Houston," said Michael W. Brandl, an economist and lecturer at the University of Texas in Austin. "When you start thinking about it in those kinds of context, you're going to have this immediate issue of losing -- fortunately, it's hitting on a weekend -- but a couple days of productivity."

The flower district along Fannin Street was starting to open back up Sunday. The Rosewood flower and plant shop, which advertises 12 roses for $4.94, was open and ready for customers. Rosewood, along with several other flower shops in this area, is typically open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Its location halfway between downtown and the hospital area keeps it busy.

Reza Nouri was outside, watering plants that had been stored in the shop since it closed Thursday. "I actually have to water my own yard," he said. "Everyone thought that was crazy -- watering a yard after a hurricane."

Those three days the shop was closed are usually its busiest of the week. Nouri guessed the store lost about $13,000 in business and flowers. All 10 weddings it would have supplied were canceled.

"The groom didn't kiss the bride. The wind kept them separate," Nouri said, hose in one hand.

The flowers meant for wedded bliss will be sold all week, if they last, he said. "We'll probably lose a lot of those flowers, too," he said. "But we hope people will buy them at a lower price."

Rosewood started to open again Saturday around 8 p.m. By Sunday at lunchtime, Nouri had one paying customer -- a regular, who always buys carnations to take to the cemetery on Sundays.

Just a Dollar and Budget Food Store in Houston, which was still closed Sunday, lost a few days of business.