It was hard to see into the narrow storefront office in Queens, though the front was made of glass. A detached blue cubicle wall, leaning against the backs of two red chairs, hulked in front of the window and obstructed the view.
“It was clear before,” said J.W. Lee, the owner of the insurance company next door, as he smoked a Newport Light in the threshold of his office. “They don’t want people looking inside.”
The storefront in the Tudor Revival building in the Douglaston neighborhood of Queens has lived many lives: It was a flower shop; the satellite office of Mr. Santos’s predecessor, Thomas R. Suozzi, whose name still adorns the green awning; and even a massage parlor that neighbors worried sold more than just foot rubs.
Now it is home to perhaps its most notorious tenant: Representative George Santos.
In the days since Mr. Santos opened his district office there, the relatively quiet stretch of Northern Boulevard has drawn unusual attention, from news media and passers-by, perhaps in the vain hopes of catching a glimpse of the Republican congressman who falsely claimed to be a champion volleyball player, a grandson of Holocaust survivors, a Goldman Sachs project manager and the child of a Sept. 11 survivor.
At about 8:45 a.m. on Thursday, a middle-aged woman in jeans with a brown satchel slung across her back unlocked the office door and then locked it behind her, curtly refusing entry to the two reporters waiting outside.
“No,” she said.
A handwritten note on the door reinforced the aura of opacity, and perhaps some measure of caution.
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“No videotaping allowed,” it read in a neat blue print. “No audio recording allowed. No weapons allowed.”
A balding man clutching an umbrella stopped to read the sign, chuckled to himself and then moved along, but not before quickly sizing up the situation. “It’s ridiculous,” he said.
Another passer-by, Bill Graf, a 62-year-old art teacher on his way to work at the nearby National Art League, noted that the media interest had been so intense that three of his students had already been interviewed. (This, Mr. Graf, said, was his first media interview.)
“Has he ever actually been here?” Mr. Graf wondered.
The answer was unclear. A spokeswoman for Mr. Santos did not respond to a request for comment.
On that particular Thursday, Mr. Santos was in Washington, according to Mark Woolley, the congressman’s district director, who arrived in Douglaston shortly after his terse female colleague, and who gave The New York Times a tour of the modest workspace.
Mr. Woolley, 66, gave off the vibe of someone with options in life. A stocky man of medium build, he wore a green sweater, a blue baseball hat, work boots and round, wire-rimmed glasses. He said he spent eight years as district director for former Representative Lee Zeldin, who gave up his seat in Congress to mount a nearly successful bid for governor of New York. He said he had agreed to take the position after revelations about Mr. Santos emerged, and that he was going into it with his “eyes wide open,” as with any other job.
“You look perplexed,” Mr. Woolley said to a Times reporter. “Why are you perplexed?”
“You have to separate politics from government work, and you can,” he said later. “Because this is government work. And it’s got to get done.”
That work includes helping veterans access benefits, and assisting constituents with immigration and Social Security issues. It is work that Mr. Woolley seems to believe in, even if it is unclear if Mr. Santos’s office will be responsible for much of it.
With the northern half of Long Island’s Nassau County falling into Mr. Santos’s district, County Executive Bruce Blakeman has said he will direct all federal constituent calls to Anthony D’Esposito, another Long Island congressman.
“My office will have no interaction with George Santos or his staff until he resigns,” Mr. Blakeman, a Republican, said this month.
But if constituents do come to Mr. Santos’s district office, workers will be ready. On Thursday, there were four staff members there, including Mr. Woolley. There was also a copy machine, a microwave, a coffee maker and intermittent pounding from the floor above, which was under construction of some sort.
At a desk whose occupant had yet to arrive, yellow sticky notes covered a monitor. One concerned a union member seeking Mr. Santos’s attendance at an event. “It would mean a lot, I don’t care about his lies,” the note quoted the union member as saying. “Everyone deserves a path to redemption.”
Another constituent had apparently called in search of a college recommendation on behalf of his son. It was not clear how useful that recommendation would be, given Mr. Santos’s reputation — one that Matthew Walters, a Republican and the owner of the nearby Douglaston Delicatessen, likened to that of a “clown.”
David Chenkin, a 69-year-old retired paralegal wearing camouflage, was the only neighbor to stop by the office that Thursday morning, but he was unable to get in (the office staff had a habit of locking the door behind them when they ventured outside). Mr. Chenkin voted for Mr. Santos and said he just wanted to talk with his staff.
“I would not have voted for him, had I known,” Mr. Chenkin said. “In my opinion, George Santos should stay where he is, he should do his job well, and maybe he’ll earn my trust again and I might vote for him again.”
The office abuts a stone wall supporting the berm of an old church cemetery. The Rev. Lindsay Lunnum, the rector of Zion Episcopal Church, is now Mr. Santos’s neighbor.
“The faith leader in me would say, ‘You tell the truth and the truth will set you free,’” Ms. Lunnum said. “I hope as a human being that George Santos can be in a place where he can start to tell the truth about who he is, both as himself as a human, but also as an elected official.”
“And then as a citizen of this district,” she added, “I have zero confidence in his ability to govern without that honesty.”
Nicholas Fandos contributed reporting.