Business Was Anything but Usual
Shops, Cafes on Reagan Funeral Procession's Route Tried to Adjust on a Far From Typical Day
By Neil Irwin and Michael barbaro
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, June 12, 2004; Page D12
The weather was dreary yesterday as crowds lined Pennsylvania Avenue to watch Ronald Reagan's funeral procession go by. They wanted coffee. And Neela Toteja was happy to oblige.
In the morning, tourists popped in and out of her shop, Capitol Grounds, to grab a hot decaf latte before the cortege arrived.
"None of our regulars are here," she said as she straightened a just-vacated chair. "But there's enough tourists that we're doing better than a normal day."
Abel Gaoma, standing in the coffee shop, was less enthused. He cuts hair at Puglisi Hair Cuts next door. Or rather, he cuts hair most days. Yesterday, he hadn't had a single customer by 11 a.m. "Normally I would have had six or seven by this time," he said. "I'll probably go home early."
That's how things went for businesses in much of Washington yesterday, and most of the week. The first presidential funeral in Washington since 1973 generated an influx of tourists and heads of state. But it also created fears of choked traffic and caused the government and many businesses to close yesterday, resulting in lost productivity and fewer sales for some merchants.
In purely economic terms, the tributes to Reagan were like other events that can be frustrating for area businesses, along the lines of major World Bank protests or a modest snowstorm. It is hard to put an exact price on such disruptions, local business leaders said, as they played down the economic impact.
"I don't think many businesses will feel a terribly large impact from the funeral events," said Robert A. Peck, president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, a regional chamber of commerce. "Nobody's saying 'Oh my gosh, this is terrible for business.' "
As the federal government closed its doors Friday, many of the companies that serve it stayed open -- but found ways to honor Reagan. GTSI Corp., in Chantilly, had a normal workday, but invited workers to watch three hours of televised funeral coverage in a large meeting room.
VSE Corp, a government contractor based in Alexandria, had a liberal leave policy, permitting employees to take the day off but requiring them to use accumulated leave time if they did so.
"In some cases people have deadlines and they need to keep them," said Craig Weber, VSE's chief administrative officer. "And in other cases it's 'Geez, my customer's not there, and it's not as productive a day as another day would be.' "
© 2004 The Washington Post Company