Local businesses feel impact of furloughs

Seong’s Sushi Bar and Chinese has been a prime lunch destination for federal employees since its opening 17 years ago, but now it’s eerily quiet.


Seong’s is located directly across the street from the Federal Building in downtown Juneau, so as speculation of a government shutdown grew, owner Seong Kim expected a drop-off.

But he didn’t expect to lose half his business in the first week.

“I’m having a hard time paying the bills,” said Kim who added that profits are down at least 50 percent since the federal government shutdown went into effect last week. “If this keeps up, in a few months I’ll be out of business — even in a couple of weeks I’ll be in deep trouble.”

The furloughs are the result of a political impasse in Washington where Republicans in the House of Representatives refuse to pass a government spending bill without Democrats making concessions. On the other side of the aisle, Senate Democrats have refused to negotiate delaying or defunding parts of the Affordable Care Act — also known as Obamacare.

Every table in the restaurant’s modest dining room would be full during the lunch hour two weeks ago — now the tables are empty more often than not.

The chatter of numerous groups talking over sushi is gone, leaving just music coming from speakers in the roof.

The head chef can even take breaks during the lunch hour now — a true indicator of just how much Seong’s relies on the federal employees coming for lunch, Kim said.

“That was out of the question before,” he said of the chef’s free time. “Usually he’s cooking around-the-clock, all day.”

Business has never been this slow, and if it doesn’t pick up soon, federal employees may not be the only ones out of work, Kim added.

“I’ve already cut down employees’ hours — I hate to fire people because they rely on this job — but if this keeps up, I’ll have to let people go,” Kim said.

Alaskans received their 2013 PFD money last week, so an increase in downtown shopping helped ease the loss of the Federal Building some, employee Jeong Kim said.

“Next week we don’t know what will happen,” she said. “We just worry because so many of our customers now are new shoppers.”

Seong’s isn’t the only business reeling from the government shutdown. Capital Brew, a drive-thru coffee shop just around the corner from the sushi bar and also across the street from the Federal Building, has also seen a drop in business.

“Nobody is wanting to get coffee or be loose with their money when they don’t know when they’ll get paid next,” said Lacey Godkin, owner of Capital Brew.

About a tenth of her regular customers have said they won’t be by for their morning brew until the shutdown ends.

If the end doesn’t come soon, employees may be let go, she added.

“We’ll have to see how long this goes on, if it does, I’ll have to cut back on my girls,” Godkin said. “If I’m not making money, I can’t afford to be paying them.”

• Contact reporter Matt Woolbright at 523-2243 or at matthew.woolbright@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter @reportermatt.


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