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Anxious St. Louis Businesses Want Shutdown To End


In our continuing coverage of the impact of the partial government shutdown, we head now to St. Louis. It's home to around 25,000 federal workers, and many of them are wondering when they'll get back to work. So too are the many small businesses that rely on those workers as customers. St. Louis Public Radio's Tim Lloyd has more.

TIM LLOYD, BYLINE: Walk alongside the side of a parking lot at the Federal Center here in North St. Louis County and this place is just massive. The 23 building office park sprawls out across 62 and a half acres or basically 46 football fields. And with thousands of workers on furlough there's a sea of concrete where normally there would be rows and rows of cars. Uncertainty about how long those parking spots will stay empty has started to send ripples of anxiety through some parts of the community.

ASWAD BRANTLY: What I'm worried about is they keep going, that's more money that's out of my pocket.


LLOYD: Aswad Brantly - a tall, thin man - is chopping away at some nice looking rib tips in the kitchen at CK Barbeque. There's a bunch of these little barbeque joints around the Federal Center on Goodfellow Avenue, one of two major government complexes in North St. Louis County, where around 4,000 workers do everything from archiving military records to processing rural loans.

Brantly says the furloughs are hurting his business. The fewer the customers, the less pulled pork he's selling.

BRANTLY: That's the extra stuff. You know what I mean? The car payments at home, you know what I mean? And the house notes and things of that nature. So those are the things we have to deal with, you know. We're the collateral damage.

LLOYD: Rebecca Zoll is president of the North County Regional Development Association, which represents businesses across the jigsaw puzzle of 47 municipalities that make up North St. Louis County. She says in the wake of the recession, many mom and pop stores near the two federal complexes have struggled. So any business disruption is especially unwelcome.

REBECCA ZOLL: They will be very frank and tell you they can make payroll this month, but that doesn't mean they can make payroll next month. So if any situation, whether it be the government shutdown or something else dramatic happens to them, they don't have the type of money in reserve to make payroll next month.

LLOYD: Even though the partial shutdown has pulled the rug out from under some small businesses, it remains to be seen how or if will be felt by the wider economy. Many economists say as long as it doesn't last too long, the partial shutdown won't be a major issue. And there was some good local news yesterday. Across the Mississippi River at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, 3,500 civilian workers are back on the job.

At the same time, the partial shutdown has caused some economic headaches. Like other National Parks, St. Louis's calling card, the Gateway Arch, remains closed. Near the bank of the Mississippi River, the Arch towers over Laclede's Landing, a popular tourist destination. Andrew Gehling manages Gibbol's, a magic and costume shop. He says it's not unusual for them to see up to 100 customers on a day like this. But today he hasn't seen even one.

ANDREW GEHLING: On a nice day people come from Bellville Illinois, O'Fallon, away from Kansas City even, and they want to, you know, see the sights. But if the sights are shut down, what's the point in coming out?

LLOYD: It's the same story across the street at the Laclede's Landing Wax Museum. Yolanda Baldwin works the counter, selling ice cream and tickets to tourists. She can't help but wonder what happens if business doesn't pick up soon.

YOLANDA BALDWIN: It's going to be hard to find another job, I'm thinking, if we don't have the customers coming in.

LLOYD: But like in other parts of the country, most of the immediate economic pain is first being felt by furloughed workers. Even though they can expect to get back pay, they don't know when those checks will arrive. And the same goes for the businesses relying heavily on spending from those federal workers. For NPR News, I'm Tim Lloyd in St. Louis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.