Signs by furloughed government workers at the 2019 Women's March rally in D.C.

“End this government shutdown now!” Jamie Rodny shouted out during the 2019 Women’s March and rally in Washington, D.C. As a Federal Investigator at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, she speaks from a place of compassion as well as frustration for the 800,000 furloughed workers.

Amid the longest government shutdown in history – now passing its 30th day – Washington, D.C. this past weekend was churning with dissent across the political spectrum. As pro-life protesters streamed into Union Station late Friday following their rally, incoming groups trickled in for Saturday’s women’s march. By Saturday morning, despite frigid temperatures, the women’s rally was in full force – albeit with a lower number of participants than in prior years – and similar to Rodny, many of the protesters weaved the government shutdown into the protest narrative.

For retailers, restaurants and other businesses, “making the best of it,” seemed to be the mantra of the day. And that including offering discounts and deals for no-pay strapped federal workers. And for some retailers, January is a slow month anyway.

On Saturday, the Women’s March on Washington, aptly named “Women’s Wave” deflected signs of the governmental stagnation despite smaller crowds than previous years perhaps due to the cold or alleged controversy of march organizers. This wave was just a ripple of intersectional feminist protests occurring across the nation, only two years since the largest single-day demonstration with the Women’s March on Washington in 2017 – which was on the cusp of the newly-realized Trump presidency.

Speaking on the government shutdown, Rodny reiterated her hurt to the crowd – many holding handmade signage and enduring the cold with reddened cheeks; “We are suffering financially, mentally and emotionally.”

Scanning the faces around Freedom Plaza revealed a plague of disgruntlement. One sign read, “Pay us justice for what you owe us all” and a neighboring poster read, “But… my bank account hit a wall.”

Signs by furloughed government workers at the 2019 Women’s March rally in D.C.  Kaley Roshitsh/WWD

Barred from taking new jobs and shamed for seeking financial assistance, the furloughed hundreds of thousands are taking loans and paying with credit cards for essential purchases – and to pay rent and mortgage notes. To bolster those who have not received their paychecks and some 400,000 federal government employees forced to work without pay – and in an effort to stir spending – retailers have stepped in with further support.

Not just in D.C., but across the U.S., in participating restaurants, bars or shops, as long as you show your federal ID card and the government is still shut down, discounts flourish. Happy hour cocktails at Capitol Lounge or Carmine’s, or a complimentary cup of Compass Coffee at District Doughnut are promoted in an article roundup in the Washingtonian.

And for the few tourists, a stay in a downtown hotel will provide the usual visitor information. However, an additional printout now appears on the bed sheets alongside the sheet with the WiFi login, reading; “Government Shutdown: What is Open? Smithsonian Alternatives.” With the promise of an eventful stay in the nation’s capital, the curbed efforts by hotels and local businesses aim to generate more spending activity.

On the official Washington D.C. tourism website, a campaign marked by the hashtag #DCisOpen touted: “No politics. No power plays. No problem.” Although the marketing effort is applauded, wedging a divide between D.C. and politics seems an unlikely separation.

However, visitors are able to see the city’s monuments, memorials and the national mall, but visitor centers and park ranger talks are excluded. All 19 Smithsonian sites aside, most private museums and attractions which charge entrance fees such as the National Geographic Museum and the Spy Museum, are open.

While some museums remain open, upscale shopping outside downtown continues at full speed while small businesses, in close proximity to Smithsonian sites, suffer. A jaunt through Tyson’s Corner, the upscale mall, just 30 minutes away with light traffic, bustles steadily with activity.

Housing the first Apple store as well as luxury storefronts such as Bloomingdale’s and Gucci, the mall defines a wealthy, pioneering posterity, with newest additions such as Australian luxury skincare brand Aesop. For reference, the median household income for the area in 2017 was $117,515 according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Gucci store at Tyson’s Corner.  Kaley Roshitsh/WWD

When speaking briefly to WWD about the perceived spending morale because of the government shutdown, a sales associate at Ann Taylor replied; “Well, January is usually slow, but it’s been good activity.”

Meanwhile, essentially halted elsewhere, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority claims it is losing $400,000 per weekday in lost revenue, according to a letter sent to Virginia and Maryland senators who sought information. This is not including federal funds on hold because of the Department of Transportation being shut down.

Although the government shutdown presses on with little signs of negotiation, D.C., in likeness to a dedicated shopkeeper at the start of his morning and in solidarity to the weekend’s protests, wants you to see the four letters spelled out on his sign: O-P-E-N.

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