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October 2, 2013

US businesses worry about a prolonged shutdown

NEW YORK —

NEW YORK (AP) — As the government's partial shutdown enters a second day, most companies across the country are doing business as usual. Yet concern is rising that a prolonged shutdown would cause some work at private companies to dry up and consumers to lose faith in the U.S. economy.

Many of the 800,000 government workers without paychecks would no longer shop at malls, buy cars or splurge on dinner out.

"They're not getting a paycheck, they're probably going to be cutting corners immediately in all areas, and dining out will probably be one of those," said Don Davey, who owns 20 Firehouse Subs franchises in Florida and Wisconsin.

If sales drop, Davey said he'll have to reduce the hours his 250 staffers work.

"Some of our employees could be making less money as soon as next week," he said.

For each week the government remains shut, the U.S. economy would lose 0.15 percent of annualized growth, David Stockton, a former research director at the Federal Reserve who is now at the Peterson Institute, estimates.

Consultants on some government projects have stopped flying and staying at hotels. And vacationers looking to spend money at national parks are being forced to re-route their itineraries.

For some executives, there is the frustrating sense that the federal government has become a sad joke.

"Here we go again," said JetBlue Airways CEO Dave Barger. "Business customers, leisure customers — people want predictability. It's really frustrating."

With no one sure how long the standoff in Washington will last, companies large and small are gauging the effects of a shutdown that endures more than a week or two.

Steve Silberberg, who owns a company based in Hull, Mass., that runs hiking trips in national parks and forests, said a shutdown that lasts three weeks could force him to cancel a trip planned in November in the Ouachita National Forest in Arkansas. The forest is closed, and rangers can't issue a permit for Silberberg's company, Fatpacking, to run the trip for 12 hikers.

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