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Small businesses struggle as shutdown turns L’Enfant Plaza into ‘ghost town’

Since the partial government shutdown began more than a month ago, the cash registers at small businesses in downtown D.C. catering to federal employees have gone quiet. "Nobody's here. It's like a ghost town," one business owner said. It's proven disastrous for their bottom lines.

WASHINGTON — L’Enfant Plaza in downtown D.C. is normally bustling with federal workers commuting to work at one of the numerous nearby agencies, and that means brisk business for the stores and shops that cater to them.

But since the partial government shutdown began more than a month ago, the cash registers at these small businesses have gone quiet.

“I told my employee not to show up until I call them,” said Mina Tamami, who operates Mina’s Boutique with her husband. “The past month, nothing. Nobody’s here. It’s like a ghost town.”

Despite the lack of customers, she said her contract with JBG Smith, which owns the retail space, requires her to be open every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. On her best day recently, sales were only about half of what she needs to pay her rent for the store, she said. Every other day was much worse. One day recently she rang up less than $100 for the entire day, she added.

“I don’t know how to pay the big rent by the end of this month,” she said.

Next door, Moj Foroughi has the same concerns. Her store, 4-U, is stocked full of clothes, jewelry and other accessories. But it was empty of any customers.

“Days I open and I just close with zero sales,” she lamented. “It’s been bad.”

It was just as quiet down the hall where Harry Nash runs Nash’s Menswear/Sporting Goods.

“Our December was one of the lowest gross sales we have had for the last 10 years,” he said. “That makes it very difficult. It’s supposed to be the best month of the year but that was one of the worst.”

And this month?

“Very, very slow,” he said. He too is expecting sales to decline by more than 50 percent for the month.

Still, he said he’s trying to stay optimistic. But as long as the shutdown continues, these shop owners’ federal customer base will remain furloughed and at home — not commuting to L’Enfant Plaza and not spending any money here.

“I don’t know how I’m going to pay the rent in here,” Foroughi said. “Forget about home expenses, but just the store.”

She said she’ been pleading with suppliers to give her time to pay off the inventory sitting on the shelves, and can’t even think about buying anything for Valentine’s Day or the coming spring.

In an email to WTOP, a spokeswoman for JBG Smith declined to comment about steps the company might take to help business owners.

“I keep telling myself it’s going to be OK; it’s going to be OK,” Foroughi said. “But it looks like, no, it’s not going to be OK … It’s getting worse and worse.”

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