- The Washington Times - Monday, January 22, 2018

Food truck operators and vendors in downtown Washington breathed a sigh of relief over the end of the federal government shutdown, with some saying they had lost more than half of their usual customers on Monday.

Popcorn vender Michael Habteselasse, 62, said the absence of federal workers meant he made about only a third of his usual sales Monday, joking with a customer, “I kinda feel a little bit lonely.”

Known as “Michael the Popcorn Man” to his regulars, Mr. Habteselasse has parked his cart on the corner of Seventh and Maryland streets SW to serve workers at the 14 federal agencies near L’Enfant Plaza for the past 25 years. He said that “99.9 percent of my customers are [from federal] agencies.”

Food merchants weren’t the only ones to see a downturn during the shutdown.

Metro reported a 6 percent drop in ridership, from 184,000 trips on Jan. 8 to about 173,000 trips on Monday.

Maryland Department of Transportation officials reported a similar dip in bus and MARC train ridership. “Ridership was similar to regular Friday crowds, which are about 50 to 70 percent lighter that the other weekdays,” said spokesman Paul Shepard.

Some furloughed federal employees were required to work half a day, filling buses and trains at L’Enfant Plaza at 1 p.m. with stopping at their usual food trucks.

Han Nguyen, 50, has operated a hot dog food truck in front of the National Air and Space Museum for five years. He said only half of his usual customers stopped by Monday.

Will Salama, the owner of the falafel food truck in front of the National Archives, reported a similar drop in his sales.

However, some restaurants and cafes reported steady business. The manager of Ollie’s Trolley, an American diner between the FBI headquarters and Federal Triangle, said a few regulars were missing but business was not as slow as expected.

Still, a barista at Timgad’s in the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center food court said the cafe needed a full crew in the morning, but business became “sporadic” at lunchtime.


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