Capitol Hill Businesses Confounded by Shutdown
Local bars and restaurants have made it their business to comfort congressional staffers who’ve been temporarily laid off while lawmakers continue haggling over a solution to the budgetary standoff.
Meanwhile, shopkeepers all around Capitol Hill are struggling to understand why elected officials would deliberately undermine their efforts to earn a decent living.
Savita Malhotra, owner of Capital Hill Liquors & Deli (323 Pennsylvania Ave. SE), is simply stunned by the ongoing ideological scuffle.
“This should never have happened. This bickering does not help our country at all,” she said of the political theater playing out on cable news shows.
“We’re trying to create jobs and they’re hurting us by sending people home,” she said of the economic uncertainty looming over her head, adding that the legislative logjam has turned the entire neighborhood “into a ghost town.”
Thomas Calomiris, owner of an eponymous, family-owned fruit stand in Eastern Market (225 Seventh St. SE), said, at least so far, business has been about the same.
But he suggested that some patrons seem to have a tinge of worry in their voices.
“I’ve seen a few people who told me they suddenly have more free time,” he shared. Some shoppers have tried to put a happy face on the whole situation, while others just seem like they are trying to keep busy.
So far, no one has come in all panicked. (We didn’t see many people at all during our midday visit.) But Calomiris said everyone would likely begin cutting back if the shutdown stretches into a protracted showdown like the one that gripped the city nearly two decades ago.
“I remember that … business didn’t pick up immediately after,” he said of the sluggish sales he experienced in the wake of the GOP rebellion against President Bill Clinton.
Meanwhile, Calomiris marveled at the fact that when mom-and-pops like his default on bills, things get real ugly, real fast.
“I know the government has a hard time resolving things. [But] if it was run like a business, things would be different,” he opined.
Given that Capitol Hill Fitness (725 Eighth St. SE), a free-form workout den, has only been open for a couple of months, fitness consultant Breelaun Marchai said it’s tough to gauge how his business will be affected long-term.
“No crazy changes yet,” he said.
Just to be safe, the shop has carved out a furlough special — half-off admission (that’s $5 for a 30-minute circuit, which includes 8-16 stations of full-body, low-impact challenges) for the duration of the shutdown.
Marchai hinted that their open-door policy — no membership required and no appointments necessary — should make it easy for anyone to fit a workout into their suddenly wide-open schedule.
Over at Capitol Hill Books (657 C St. SE), employee Jennifer Ellingston said she’s noticed a slight uptick in foot traffic.
“Well, of course people are coming in, because they’re not going to work,” she said.
Ellingston estimated that around a half-dozen furloughees popped in Tuesday in search of page-turners to occupy their time.
“There was a lot of, ‘Oh, you all are here because’ … [Them:] ‘Yes’ …, ” she said of the friendly patter that immediately ensued when the non-retirees (the store’s core daytime constituency) trickled in to wander the overcrowded stacks.
Even better: Each one of the surprise shoppers walked out of the store with a just-purchased title in hand.
Of course, infinite downtime isn’t panning out for everyone.
Just ask the confused little girl we spotted fumbling with the locks barring her from frolicking in the Stanton Park playground.