Royal wedding a business boom or drag?

The Associated Press
Tuesday, March 15, 2011; 12:50 PM

NORTHAMPTON, England -- Surrounded by boxes in a rickety old warehouse above the family shop, Joe Church hurries to wrap plates adorned with the faces of Prince William and his bride Kate Middleton for a customer in Australia.

The Church's business, a 152-year old china and ornament seller specializing in memorabilia, has plenty of reason to celebrate the upcoming royal nuptials as its cash register chimes with the wedding bells.

"It's good for the royal couple, it's good for everyone in the U.K. and it's certainly good for business," beams Joe's Dad, Stephen Church, in front of a display of goods ranging from heart pillows to lookalike William teddy bears.

But just an hour down the road on a rainy building site outside Cambridge, it's a very different story.

For Dick Searle, the owner of a small eponymous digger rental service, the royal wedding - and an extra public holiday - couldn't come at a worse time. As Britain struggles to pull out of an economic downturn that has crippled the building industry, the last thing Searle needs is to pay his staff for a day with no work and leave expensive equipment idle.

"They didn't ask us about it, did they, and we are having it hard," says Searle as his crew lay a new driveway in the drizzle. "Good luck to people selling rubbish plates, but for us it's nothing but bad news."

Prime Minister David Cameron made the day a national holiday to allow everyone in the country an opportunity to celebrate. But the union of the photogenic young couple is proving a boon only for some British businesses - the cold statistics suggest it is actually a drag on the rest of the economy.

Analysts predict the April 29 wedding will provide a boost of up to 1 billion pounds ($1.6 billion) to the economy, largely through retail sales, hotel room bookings and the hospitality trade.

But each public holiday also typically costs the economy 6 billion pounds in lost productivity - leaving a 5 billion pound shortfall at a time when fears of a double-dip recession weigh heavily.

The Federation of Small Businesses, a leading lobby group in a country where the average business employs just four workers, is worried about the timing of the wedding. A public holiday to celebrate the event so soon after the Easter break increases the chances of many workers taking extra vacation time - or a few unauthorized sick days - to extend their time off.

Tour companies have reported gleefully that bookings are up from Good Friday until the Monday after the wedding - an 11-day block that makes it possible to go for a trip, say, to the Caribbean.

But giving workers extended leave is an unappealing prospect for many small businesses at a time of rising unemployment, surging inflation and harsh government spending cuts.

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