U.S. government shutdown helps some businesses

The International Spy Museum  in Washington has had more customers since the shutdown closed the Smithsonian.
The International Spy Museum in Washington has had more customers since the shutdown closed the Smithsonian.

WASHINGTON — Those in power are fond of saying that a crisis shouldn’t be allowed to go to waste. But as the government shutdown continues to spread malaise across the country, it’s not congressional leaders who are seizing that mantra but entrepreneurs.

For a select group, the shutdown has become a valuable marketing tool.

A large insurance company that has a boutique operation selling wedding policies is warning jittery brides and grooms to take note of all those weddings that got unexpectedly canceled at national parks. Privately operated museums in D.C. are seizing on the rare opportunity presented by the closing of the Smithsonian.

“It’s been a welcome adjustment,” said Jason Werder, a spokesman for the International Spy Museum, where business has been up nearly a third since the Smithsonian closed its doors Oct. 1. Visitors, he said, are lining up to purchase tickets that retail for $20.95 to experience such exhibits as “Exquisitely Evil: 50 Years of Bond Villains.”

Shutdown specials have federal employees streaming into capital bars, some of which are kicking off happy hour in the early afternoon. There is just one group not welcome: members of Congress.

One D.C. bar enticing furloughed workers with a free shot of whiskey offers lawmakers their own deal: “Free water all day. Everything else will cost them double.”

To be sure, those getting a boost out of all this are the exceptions. Most enterprises affected by the shutdown are suffering. A company that runs several golf courses on national park land, for example, recently emailed angry customers asking them to please redirect their rage toward Congress. The company is powerless to reopen, the owners noted, and its out-of-work employees, who are contractors, won’t collect back pay as workers on the government payroll are expected to.

Some of those who do see opportunity in the shutdown, meanwhile, admit they have been more successful so far at leveraging free media exposure than securing actual business. That has been the case with Travelers, which has used media frenzy over the shutdown to direct attention to its wedding insurance. Asked whether the company has been getting more calls amid stories of weddings at national parks getting called off, company Vice President Ed Charlebois conceded, “really only from the media.”

That has not been the case, however, for the California Department of Parks and Recreation. The agency posted a Facebook notice alerting disappointed visitors to Yosemite National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, Alcatraz Island, and other federal properties in California that state parks are eager for their business. It was shared 40,000 times.