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Shutdown, as reflected on Foursquare: Boom, then bust

A federal employee holds up a sign on the House side of the United States Capitol building on the fifteenth day of the US government shutdown in Washington D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013. The fiscal showdown in Washington entered its final stages as the House and Senate prepared competing plans that would end the 15-day-old government shutdown and prevent the U.S. from missing promised payments. Photographer: Julia Schmalz/Bloomberg A federal employee protests the shutdown. (Julia Schmalz/Bloomberg)

If we LoJacked all the furloughed federal workers in town, we’d be able to tell you exactly what they’d been up to during the government shutdown. But that’s not exactly legal (whatever the NSA might tell you), so here’s the next best thing: Foursquare, the social media Web site that lets users share which locations they “check into,” has some answers about shutdown behavior patterns.

The company says its data from Washington over the past two weeks showed more people checked in at pricey restaurants and bars during the shutdown’s first week. “Instead of offices, trains  and cafeterias, people were going to bars and Italian restaurants,” the company’s analysis says. “People seemingly treated the furlough as a vacation, spending even more time in expensive restaurants.”

But it wasn’t all fun and games. By the second week, it seemed people were sobering up. Activity overall decreased from normal levels. “People stopped going to coffee shops, food trucks and inexpensive restaurants and those numbers declined even further into the second week,” the analysis says. “More expensive restaurants, which were popular in the first week of the shutdown, fell below normal levels as the financial implications of the shutdown set in.”

Check-ins at bars were up by half in the first week, though they returned to normal or below the following week.

It’s hard to glean any economic impact from the Foursquare report, since the company doesn’t disclose how many of its 40 million users are in any particular area. But a spokeswoman says that Washingtonians are “heavy users” of the service.

Foursquare says it will have more information about the shutdown’s impact today on its blog.

Emily Heil is the co-author of the Reliable Source and previously helped pen the In the Loop column with Al Kamen.

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