Small businesses offer space and breaks to furloughed federal workers

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The Christmas holiday is over, but thousands of area federal employees are not heading back to work — they’re waiting out the government shutdown.

In Old Town Alexandria, Danielle Romanetti, owner of fibrespace, a yarn shop, knows how unsettling a furlough can be. Her husband works for the government, and she said contrary to what many people assume, a furlough is anything but a “free vacation”.

Romanetti said a number of her clients are federal workers and contractors, and, just as she did in 2013 when there was a weekslong shutdown, she is offering free knitting classes.

She recalls how her shop in Old Town Alexandria was packed with furloughed workers.

“It was incredible. We had a series of tables lined up in the store and we would have everyone introduce themselves and say what agency they worked for — if they could say,” she added, with a laugh.

The feedback she got then has stuck with her.

“We just hear from them that this is a great stress-relieving activity, and it can feel productive,” Romanetti said.

Federal workers aren’t the only ones concerned about the impact of interrupted or lost income. Romanetti said local businesses feel the effects too. Already, she said she is seen a slowdown in spending among customers.

“We know people were holding on and holding back, so it was a slower-than-it-should-have-been season” she said. “If the shutdown looms for days and weeks on end, the impact on this economy is going to be really brutal.”

This year, fibrespace will offer classes on Thursday and Friday, and for those who already know their way around a pair of knitting needles and a ball of yarn, there’s an invitation to come on in and work on a project while waiting for word on when the government will reopen for business.

Other businesses are offering either price breaks, specials or freebies as a way to address the needs of current clients — and maybe future customers. The Wellness Cooperative is offering breaks on stress-relieving services, and Wear Ever jewelry is offering a break on a metalworking class.

Romanetti said some of her current customers first came to her during that furlough of 2013.

“There’s a whole host of them who probably never knitted again, but during that two weeks, it was a welcome stress-reliever,” she said.

More info on fibrespace knitting classes below:

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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