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Many bars and restaurants sticking with shutdown specials

Monday - 10/7/2013, 3:04pm  ET

As the shutdown entered its second week Monday, many bars and restaurants that offered specials last week to furloughed government employees hunkered down for more deals and cheap drinks.

It's still not clear whether the specials are getting the establishments anything much more than goodwill, given the discounts, although it does seem like furloughed federal workers have been eager to drown their sorrows.

A bartender working at Kramerbook's Afterwords Cafe last weekend told me that the bar was much busier than usual. The bar was offering $5 drafts all day, instead of just during happy hour. (The bar also made headlines when it specified that the special would not apply to members of Congress — instead, they would pay double.)

But co-owner Henry Posner figures that the shutdown will ultimately hurt businesses, including his.

"Because it's giving stuff away at a lesser price," he said. "It's like couponing. Sooner or later, it doesn't pay.

"But what can you do? Everyone's feeling the pain," he added, noting that a meat wholesaler came in this morning offering a deal on ground beef in light of the shutdown. "I've never seen that … the fact that a meat wholesaler would offer such a deep discount to their customers is a telling sign that people were hurting. It's just awful," Posner said.

He also provided a disclaimer, noting that his view of the shutdown shouldn't be construed as him weighing in on the Affordable Care Act, which has been brought front and center in the discussion.

"You just shouldn't play politics with anybody's lives," he said. "I don't want to say that I'm for Obamacare … it will have serious impacts on us as a small business terms of costs. But this is nuts."

It's hard to tell whether any increase in traffic observed at the store is shutdown related, he added, because October typically picks up in business anyway.

He plans to keep the happy hour prices all day until the shutdown ends, or even for a day or two afterwards "as a celebration" of its ending, he said.

"I figured we wanted to do something, because a lot of restaurants were doing it," Posner said. "A least we're doing something. Whatever we do, it's certainly more than Congress, because they're doing nothing except posturing."

We outlined a whole slew of specials that restaurants were offering last week in light of the shutdown. Among them, Pork Barrel BBQ in Alexandria is still going strong with its offer of free pulled pork sandwiches — as of Friday, they had given out 1,321 with no signs of stopping.

Urbana's progressive happy hour has now reached its full length — from 5 p.m. to close — after being extended by one hour every day last week.

This week, they've added another countdown element: the bar's margarita pizza will decrease in price by $1 each day that the shutdown continues. They will, however, be closed for a private event as planned on Thursday — "we have to make some money back to keep a deal this good going," joked a spokeswoman.

© 2013 American City Business Journals, Inc.