Not Out To Lunch: Businesses That Rely On Federal Workers Suffer The Shutdown

Along with garbage piling up at National Parks and federal workers furloughed, the government shutdown is also slowing down businesses that rely on federal workers during the day, like the restaurants and cafes where they eat lunch.

The Denver Federal Center in the suburb of Lakewood. Colo. houses 28 government agencies in 44 buildings. Many federal employees working there are not on the job due to the shutdown.

Calls to many of those federal offices, such as the Bureau of Land Management, result in outgoing voice mail messages that explain the office is closed due to “the lapse in appropriations.”

Nearby businesses suffer

Down the street from the building complex, Nick Andurlakis has been running Nick’s Cafe for 32 years. It’s unabashedly Elvis-themed. The walls are adorned with photos of the King and album covers from his many hits.

Even the cafe’s signature “Fool’s Gold” sandwich was ordered and loved by the Elvis himself, Andurlakis says. He normally sells a dozen of the peanut butter and bacon sandwiches each day, give or take. However, during a recent weekday afternoon, things were pretty quiet.

“I think we’ve lost, you know maybe 20 percent of our business, 25 percent of our business,” he says.

He suspects the shutdown is partially responsible for his drop in customers, but also says he thinks a lot of regulars could still be out for the holidays.

Andurlakis says everybody suffers a little when the government shuts down. Still, he thinks these sorts of things usually happens for a reason, and he supports the push for more border security.

“I’m the kind of guy that wants the government to be safe. I can understand where the president’s coming from,” he says, calling the shutdown a little political fistfight.

Losing hours, and morale

Colorado has more than 50,000 federal employees, many of whom are still on the job. But the state also has large numbers of federal departments affected by the partial shutdown, including about 6,500 workers with the Interior Department, 3,700 employees with the Agriculture Department, and 1,400 workers with the Department of Transportation. Fewer people in office parks means fewer people going out to lunch.

Right across the street from the Federal Center in Lakewood, Tokyo Joe’s fast food restaurant franchise manager Jolie Voss says 30 to 40percent of her customer base are federal workers.

“You kind of just get used to the same faces,” Voss says. “Bob from accounting is going to come in and get his white chicken bowl, so to not see those faces as often, you really notice.”

As a franchise manager, she is expected to meet certain sales quotas and says business has been down thousands of dollars per week since the shutdown.

“We have to start sending people home earlier, so people are losing hours. We’re starting to waste more food product, which means we’re spending more money on things we’re just not gonna go through and in general just decreases the morale of my store,” she says.

She describes the shutdown as a squabble over petty affairs.

The customers who were in the Tokyo Joe’s during a recent weekday lunch rush could take solace in getting through the line faster.

Jeda Mckenney was sitting at a table outside. He’s not a federal employee and says he’s not paying much attention to the shutdown, though he might “when stoplights stop working and they don’t shovel my snow.”

Those aren’t federal obligations, but the sentiment reflects those of other Tokyo Joe’s customers. They were not noticing effects of the shutdown in their daily lives.

Again, however, the businesses federal workers use certainly are noticing.

And while the furloughed workers are likely to get back pay, a sandwich shop is not going to get paid for a sandwich not eaten.

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