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Tips down as shutdown stings service industry

Friday - 10/11/2013, 3:18pm  ET

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The typical lunch rush has been reduced to one table at Molly Malone's Irish pub on Barracks Row. (WTOP/Alicia Lozano)
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WASHINGTON - Cups clank and grills sizzle on a rainy morning inside Tastee Diner. While the typical sounds remain at the Bethesda, Md., eatery, something is noticeably absent: Customers.

"We are empty," says server Aster Yalew. "This is a shutdown for everyone."

Yalew and her husband, a D.C. taxi driver, moved to the United States from Ethiopia about 22 years ago, she says. They became citizens and have been working to save money for their two adolescent children ever since, but the government shutdown has affected both of their incomes.

Tastee Diner is usually packed on the weekend with regular customers coming in for breakfast and lunch, Yalew says. Since the shutdown went into effect, those regulars have been reduced to just two or three customers.

With fewer customers coming in, tips are also down.

"We don't know how to feed our kids," she says. "This is very scary."

Economists are warning that some industries might never recover wages lost during the shutdown.

"This all comes down to a confidence issue," Lindsey Piegza, chief economist for Sterne Agee, told The Washington Post. "The consumer is just very, very sensitive to the shenanigans in Washington."

In other words, if consumer confidence is down, people will continue to spend less and a trickle-down effect will sting Main Street America.

Confidence in the economy has already plummeted since the shutdown started. According to two separate studies, consumer confidence has fallen more this week than any other since the financial crisis began in 2008, Money Watch reports.

"Congress' inability to reach a compromise to end the government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling could negatively affect U.S. stock prices, America's credit rating, and, ultimately, the nation's economic recovery," Alyssa Brown wrote in the Gallup report.

In Southeast D.C., one regular sips a beer at Molly Malone's Irish pub on Barrack's Row. One table of four sit eating lunch. Otherwise, the normally loud bar is completely silent except for Weezer playing over the speakers.

"On a typical week, I would have three to five large parties upstairs during lunch," says bartender Tommy Brown. "I've had none since the shutdown."

Centrally located on the normally bustling strip of bars, restaurants and retails stores, Molly Malone's prides itself as being a hub for regulars, Brown says. The bar is close to Eastern Market, Navy Yards and Nationals Stadium. But since 800,000 federal workers were furloughed nationwide, local watering holes like this one are getting less business.

Bartender Cara MacAdam says even night spots like Adams Morgan have suffered since the shutdown. On a normal Saturday night working at the Black Squirrel on 18th Street in Norwest, MacAdam usually brings home at least $200.

"Last Saturday was my worst night ever," she says. "I made just $80."

While MacAdam's income is being slowly depleted, she says she can dip into her savings account to make ends meet. Her dream trip to Asia can wait, she says.

But for Tommy Brown, the situation might be more dire. His wife was furloughed from the Department of the Interior last week, and the two are already struggling. He says if the shutdown continues, they will consider relocating from Southeast D.C. to his mother-in-law's house in Virginia.

"Let's just hope it doesn't come to that," he jokes.

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