What the Government Shutdown Has Meant for DC Retailers

Washington, D.C., shoe retailers are beginning to feel the heat of the government shutdown.

Roughly 800,000 federal employees, many of them based in the Washington area, are being impacted by the stoppage. On Friday, the majority of government workers missed their first paychecks — which means hundreds of thousands of families are without income.

“That [first missed paycheck] is going to have a major impact,” Matt Priest, president and CEO of the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America (FDRA), explained. “Obviously, that’s centralized to D.C. for a lot of them but also nationwide since there’s so many federal workers all over the country.”

Several shoe retailers in the region said they’re already feeling the effects — which, coupled with snowy weather and a post-Christmas lull, has meant slow sales for many.

JoAnn Epps, owner of Gaithersburg, Md.-based Jo’s Comfort Zone, said that she’s already seen a drop-off in sales. Epps stocks comfort footwear from brands like Toms, Birkenstock and Timberland, but she also sells orthotics. Her list of customers coming in with prescriptions has gone down, she said.

“People aren’t coming in; people are returning things because they want to make sure they have money for their bills. So it’s been very, very quiet,” she said. “Even those clients [wanting orthotics and brace adjustments] aren’t coming because they don’t know if they’re going to be able to pay out-of-pocket to then submit to insurance.”

Ray Pugsley, owner of the Virginia-based nine-store chain Potomac River Running, has similarly seen diluted sales, although he said snowstorms and the pushed-back Martin Luther King weekend date made it difficult to compare year-to-year figures.

“We have seen impact [of the government shutdown], although it’s a little bit cloudy for us,” Pugsley said. “We have seen a decrease in activity … We also have staff who work for us part time who have been asking for more shifts.”

The negative consequences of President Donald Trump’s scuffle with Democrats over funding his campaign-promised wall on the U.S.-Mexico border hasn’t been felt by all shoe firms in the D.C. area, though.

Duk-Ki Yu, owner of premium sneaker boutique Major, said he hasn’t experienced anything of note in the 27 days since the federal government stoppage commenced.

“The weather has been much more of a factor than the federal shutdown, for the most part. Since we deal in more premium category, I don’t think the immediate impact of the shutdown has reached us yet,” he explained. “The short-term impact will be felt by businesses that sell everyday goods more than [by] the shops that sell more limited product.”

Still, Pugsley noted that there has been a major trickle-down effect in the D.C. area, reaching not only those who work for the government but also those in the service industry more broadly.

“The thing people probably don’t realize outside of the area is that if you happen to work in a restaurant downtown, people aren’t buying lunch,” he said. “It trickles dow,n and the net starts to get wider the longer it goes … it affects the government workers, the contractors [who work with the government] and the people who service them day to day.”

What’s more, down the road, the results of the shutdown could extend past government workers should IRS tax refund payments be missed.

“It doesn’t take an economist to understand that if you take out paychecks for close to a million families, that’s going to have a negative impact,” Priest said.

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