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Some Are Benefiting From The Government Shutdown

Rasim Akin Sevimli of Turkey tries to peer through the glass of the closed Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum on Tuesday — his only chance to see the museum before leaving Washington, D.C.
Carolyn Kaster
Rasim Akin Sevimli of Turkey tries to peer through the glass of the closed Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum on Tuesday — his only chance to see the museum before leaving Washington, D.C.

Among the temporary casualties of the government shutdown, besides the paychecks of 800,000 workers, are all federally funded tourist attractions.

Sure, it's a bummer for those who planned vacations around the Smithsonian museums and galleries, national parks and national monuments (although barricades didn't stop some veterans at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., Tuesday).

But the masses of displaced tourists, furloughed workers and disgruntled citizens are actually helping out some establishments, albeit temporarily.

The New Smithsonians

Antonio Manalus, from Connecticut, wanted to see the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum on his trip to the nation's capital. Instead, he ended up at the privately owned International Spy Museum.

"This place must be doing some good business," he says while perusing the gift shop. He's also planning to visit Madame Tussauds, the wax museum a few blocks away, even though that wasn't on his original wish list.

Jason Werden, public relations manager for the International Spy Museum, says that the museum had already booked a dozen additional groups for the coming weeks. "We've certainly seen an influx of visitors," he says.

While the museum's welcoming the additional business, he says, that doesn't mean the shutdown is beneficial in the long run. "We're certainly cognizant of the fact that tourists aren't happy about this," he says.

The National Geographic Museum also saw extra visitors, a spokeswoman said — although that was partly due to the free admission it was offering. It's continuing to offer free admission to federal employees for the remainder of the shutdown. So is the National Building Museum, an independent nonprofit.

Food Freebies

Furloughed federal workers were getting sympathy specials from dozens of restaurants and bars around the region, with some promising the deals until the shutdown ends.

For Bayou Bakery in Arlington, Va., where government workers can pick up complimentary New Orleans-style beignets, the special has been a win-win: People are off work and getting free food, and the restaurant is attracting new customers.

"For the short term, it's beneficial for everyone," manager Kyle Pool says.

He's not sure how long the bakery will continue the freebies, though. "When people are three weeks into this, I don't know how happy they'll be," he says. "That's a lot of beignets."

Outside The District

Chuck Livingston and his wife, Dawn, are visiting D.C. from Sacramento, Calif., for Chuck's 60th birthday. It was originally going to be a vacation to Barcelona, but he decided he wanted an all-American tour of the capital instead.

They set up a visit to the U.S. Capitol, a Segway tour of the national monuments and a detailed itinerary with all the Smithsonian museums they wanted to visit.

"We've been planning it for months, literally months," Dawn says.

They arrived early Tuesday morning — and had to begin crossing items off their list. But it hasn't ruined Chuck's birthday vacation, he says. In fact, it's helped them discover more of the region than they normally would have.

"There's more to Washington than the federal government," Chuck says.

For example, they're spending extra time in Old Town Alexandria, Va. They're not alone, it turns out. The Alexandria Visitors Center reported a 30 percent increase in day traffic Wednesday, boosting business at local restaurants and shops.

Alexandria hotels, on the other hand, are already taking a hit as cancellations roll in, says a spokeswoman for the Alexandria Convention & Visitors Association.

And Don't Forget ...

Nothing hyperbolizes the government shutdown like an ironic T-shirt from Iowa. Seriously.

Mike Draper, who owns RAYGUN tee company in Des Moines, says the firm loves making "commemorative T-shirts" on faux-apocalyptic issues. (It also made an ironic T-shirt on a controversy over a local college football rivalry, so that's about how seriously the company's taking this particular crisis.)

It sold 200 of its "Shutdown 2013: No Productivity! No Mercy!" shirts on Tuesday.

"It's so easy to make fun of childish behavior," Draper says. "The shutdown is definitely working in our favor."

Emily Siner is an intern on NPR's Digital News desk.

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