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D.C. businesses take a big hit with the loss of regular customers

Private museums and galleries could well see uptick in visitors

Hours into the federal government's shutdown, the negative effects were already showing around the region.

Tables were empty and crowds sparse during lunch Tuesday at the food court of the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, the second-largest U.S. government office building.

"Today is about the emptiest I've seen it," said Bill Prutzman, 54, a contractor working for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which is headquartered in the building.

Workers at food court stalls said business was slow, but they worried it would get even slower if the shutdown continues.

The thousands of federal employees who work in the building — including those employed by Customs and Border Protection, the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Agency for International Development — returned to their offices for four hours Tuesday morning to secure their spaces before furloughs took effect. Unless Congress reaches a budget agreement, only those workers deemed essential will return Wednesday.

"It's definitely affected us," said one worker, who operates the food stall Nook in the Reagan building's food court. "Everything is a cycle. If you don't have any business, there is no money."

Haifa, who declined to give her last name, said based on the decline in customers she had Tuesday she plans to reduce the number of staff working with her Wednesday and open an hour and a half later than usual at 7:30 a.m.

"We'll see tomorrow how it is," she said.

At least one estimate has suggested the D.C. region stands to lose $220 million per day in federal payroll while the government is closed.

Hoping to drum up business at a time when workers' wallets might be tight, a slew of restaurants and bars were touting "shutdown specials" — advertising everything from free sandwiches or cupcakes for furloughed employees with a government ID card to discounted drinks for all during the duration of the shutdown.

"Perhaps that's a way to mitigate some of the initial impact," Kyle Rees, spokesman for the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington, said of the specials.

Andy Duffy, the owner of Duffy's Irish Pub in Northwest said he's offering $2 beer deals for government employees because many of his regulars work for the Department of Defense or on Capitol Hill.

"We're trying to get them to come here and drink cheap beer and help them out a little bit," Mr. Duffy said of the specials that will run through the duration of the shutdown.

The federal government accounts for 27 percent of the jobs in the District, with approximately 203,000 federal jobs in the city, according to data provided by the office of the chief financial officer.

The D.C. government, a federal enclave whose budget must be approved by Congress, has thus far been able to avert a shutdown itself with the D.C. Council approving a bill Tuesday that declared all city workers essential and authorizing funding operations through a $144 million contingency reserve account.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray told council members that the federal Office of Management and Budget on Monday asked for further information about his declaration that all workers were essential and had posted his plan on its website along with shutdown plans for federal agencies.

"I think we are in a good place with respect to our position," he said.

But D.C. officials estimate the city stands to lose between $1 million and $6 million per week in uncollected income and sales tax as a result of the shutdown.

With government-run parks, monuments and museums on the Mall closed through the shutdown, the region could lose out on tourism dollars as well.

Stephen Fuller, director of George Mason University's Center for Regional Analysis, told The Associated Press that travel and leisure spending generates about $12 billion annually for the region's economy, or about $33 million a day in tourism business, with the main draw being the Mall.

"We're not going to lose it all," but business lost in leisure travel won't be made back, Mr. Fuller told the AP. "It's the visitors from Kansas who won't come here or the international visitors who will now go to Chicago or stay in New York longer. It's going to cost us something."

Private museums, such as the Newseum, remain open and could even see a boost in visitors as tourists seek out other options after being turned away from the city's shuttered attractions.

"We've been getting calls from groups who were scheduled to visit the Smithsonian museums or other monuments around the city," Newseum spokesman Jonathan Thompson said of tour groups making contingency plans.

While Mr. Thompson said it's too early to tell if the museum will see an uptick in visitors, he noted that the Newseum on Tuesday had double the number of walk-in visitors as it had the same day last year.

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