‘Oh my God, there’s no people’: National Mall scene a symbol of shutdown’s impact

(WASHINGTON) — January, typically a gray month in the nation’s capital when temperatures begin to drop, is already a slow month for tourism-based businesses.

Factor in a government shutdown that’s closed the doors of the city’s 17 world-class, free museums, plus the National Zoo, and you’ve got all the makings for some very low snow globe sales on the National Mall.

“Oh my God, there’s no people. All the empty spots!” said Kim Tran, 65, who runs a hot dog truck that operates around Washington’s different prime tourist spots. On Wednesday, she was parked just outside the White House gates on 15th street, joined by just three other vendors in a peak location that normally sees 10 shops set up each day.

“It’s so bad for the holiday, so bad for our business,” she said. Though winter is slow, the winter holidays usually bring an uptick, Tran said.

Brian Kim, who sells souvenirs out of his stand — neon sweatshirts bearing the city’s name, tote bags emblazoned with the presidential seal and red hats with President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again” — said many vendors may have decided not to work until the museums reopen.

“With this business, I feed my kids,” Kim, 43, said. He described Wednesday’s sales by midday as “very slow.”

Tran, too, is the primary breadwinner in her house. She has four children, two of whom still live with her, and also works to support her husband. She’s run her hot dog truck for over 20 years, she said.

On New Year’s Day, Tran estimated she made around $50 from 7 a.m. until around 6 p.m. Normally, on a holiday, she expects to make around $200 of sales.

“I don’t know what I’ll do now,” she said, considering whether or not to restock her truck until the museums reopened their doors. “I have to pay bills, I don’t know what to do.”

Though business was slow, Tran and Kim agreed the White House was the best location to set up shop during the shutdown because people still gathered there, standing outside its gates.

It was one of the spots Nicklas Skar and his daughter, Erika, visited in their few days in the city on a visit from Sweden.

They’d hoped the government would be open by the time they made their way to Washington from New York City, where they spent the majority of their trip but settled instead for what they could “see from the outside.”

“I really wanted to see one of the Smithsonian museums,” Erika said, standing on the National Mall. “It’s too bad so many things are closed that you can’t get in.”

Congress is set to reconvene for its 116th session on Thursday, the 13th day of the partial shutdown over an impasse on funding for the president’s border wall. Trump and Democrats have yet to reach an agreement that would allow the government to reopen.

Some visitors to the Mall posted photos of overflowing trash cans over the holiday weekend, which has been an issue at multiple national parks with lots of visitors but minimal staff during the shutdown.

DC Public Works has been emptying the trash since before Christmas, but a spokeswoman for the city said they don’t have additional staff to pick up the extra work.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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