Businesses feel impact of shutdown
by Gregory R. Norfleet · News · October 11, 2013

It’s daytime, yet the doors to the Herbert Hoover birthplace cottage, the Quaker Meeting House and Jesse Hoover’s blacksmith shop remain closed. The grass throughout the historic district grows unchecked. Small twigs and freshly fallen walnuts litter the boardwalk.

The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum and National Historic Site often draw compliments for their pristine landscaping, but a week after the federal government shut down 17 percent of its agencies, the local park begins to show signs of abandonment.

And at least three downtown businesses — Reid’s Beans, the Brick Arch Winery and Pink Pony — report a significant decrease in business since the closure. All three businesses abut the federal land.

Members of Congress have yet to agree on a continuing resolution, but the Republican-led House has offered at least three bills to reopen national parks like the Hoover Complex, though each has been turned down by the Democrat-led Senate.

State Rep. Bobby Kaufmann last week called on a Congressional pay freeze, and he reports that both U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack and U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley support the idea. (See Kaufmann’s column on Page 2.) However, the 27th Amendment provides Constitutional protections for Congress, at least until the next election.

Ilene Lande, co-owner of Brick Arch Winery, said tourist traffic at her business is down “to a trickle.”

She said the sign on the back of her building can be seen from the national park, and draws people in.

“Most everyone is aware of the shutdown,” she said, “though there was a couple astonished (the park) was closed.”

Reid’s Beans co-owner Laura Rierson said the first couple of days, business dropped by 75 percent and a couple of parties of 16 and 18 people called to cancel because their trip included at stop at the Hoover Complex. After the first week, business was down an average 50 percent.

“It’s a big, frickin’ p---ing match,” she said of the House and Senate stalemate. “The effect is not just on the federal employees. … (Congress) needs to understand there is collateral damage.”

Rierson and husband Jonathan Blundall contacted Loebsack’s office, and the Congressman visited their restaurant Sunday afternoon.

“We wanted him to know how we are faring,” Blundall said. “He said he was glad we called his office and told us that this was something to get up and holler about.”

The two are their businesses’ only employees, but said if they had staff, they would have had to send them home.

Lande did not want to say how much business she has lost, but said it is not severe enough to cut staff.

Pink Pony owner Brenda Welsch said she has one employee who may see her hours cut, or possibly be let go prior to December if the shutdown continues.

“Luckily, I have a pretty loyal local group,” she said. “But it hurts, especially when the weather is like it is.”

Welsch said she frequently engages customers in conversation, and has seen some from Phoenix, California, New York, China, Minneapolis, St. Louis and all throughout the Midwest. But they are gone with the park closed.

“I’d like to tell government to do their job so I can do mine,” she said.

Jay Patel, who co-owns BP-Amoco/Quizno’s, said gas sales remain steady, but business at the sandwich shop has slowed down.

“People are stopping by asking, ‘What time is (the park) open?” Patel said, only to learn how it, too, is closed due to the missed federal deadline.

Representatives of Jack & Jill grocery store, Herb & Lou’s Pizza, Main Street Sweets, Casey’s General Store and Kum & Go all report that they have not seen a loss in business significant enough to tie to the closing of the federal park and library.

“Nope, not yet,” Kum & Go Manager of External Communications Traci Rodemeyer said.

Steven Grace, co-owner of Main Street Sweets, said he has not seen as many tourists, though.

McDonald’s Restaurant owner Kevin O’Brien said it is hard to determine the shutdown’s effect since the restaurant was being rebuilt this time last year.

Residents understand that the park’s closure is not a local decision.

Resident Rosemary Johnson said she understands why the barricades have been put up at the Hoover Complex.

“They’re kind of under orders,” she said. “They’re only doing what they’re supposed to do.”

Resident Francis Bahmler agreed, saying “their orders come from out east” in Washington, D.C.

Resident Polly Maher points out that the budget impasse also stopped Women Infants Children checks, among others.

“I wonder if Congress really thought how (their decision) impacts the rest of the United States,” she said. “We have a lot of poor with no other means.”

Bahmler said foreign vacationers travel a long way to find locked doors.

“They come from other countries … and we’re turning them away,” he said.

Resident Doris Lynch said she supports a freeze on congressional pay.

“They’re all pretty well off,” she said of the members of Congress.

Blundall said the coffee shop “is a small potato” in the economy, but it is how his family supports itself.

Rierson said she understands the impasse between Republicans and Democrats.

“They are doing what they believe in,” she said. “But we should be impatient and call (them).”

Blundall said they appreciate the community support they have been getting since the park was shut down on Oct. 1.

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