Closures may hurt Valley business

Posted: October 2, 2013

The Winchester Star

A national park ranger turns away visitors Tuesday at the entrance of the Shenandoah National Park in Front Royal. All national parks are closed because of the federal government shutdown that began after midnight Monday. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)
Matt Doudera (right) of Camden, Maine, and Taylor Kelley of Front Royal, look for a new destination Tuesday after finding the entrance to Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park closed at the northern entrance in Front Royal. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)

WINCHESTER — So far, it’s been pretty much business as usual for many in the Northern Shenandoah Valley in spite of Tuesday’s federal government shutdown.

The roughly 400 employees at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Middle East District, 201 Prince Frederick Drive in Winchester, were working Tuesday.

“The bottom line for us is, because we support contingency operations overseas, to include Afghanistan, we are, as of right now, open for business,” public affairs officer Joe Macri said.

The local corpsmen provide construction and contracting services in the Middle East.

Small-business owners looking to get loans might be hampered by the shutdown, according to Bill Sirbaugh, executive director of the Lord Fairfax Small Business Development Center (SBDC).

He said banks will continue to process the paperwork for loans guaranteed by the U.S. Small Business Administration, but those applications will then be in a holding pattern until Congress and the president sign off on a budget.

“And, that will not be a fast process because they’re stacking up,” he said.

The same thing is happening with U.S. Department of Agriculture loans, he said.

While the SBDC is federally funded, it remains open since it operates on an annual contract.

“Our funding is good for the calendar year,” Sirbaugh said.

He said that locally, businesses — particularly restaurants — will be affected by the closure of Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park and Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

“This actually is a fairly good tourist season right now,” Sirbaugh said. “It all came to a grinding halt as of this morning.”

The Apple House restaurant and gift shop in Linden sees a lot of business from Shenandoah National Park, owner Katie Tewell said.

“This weekend coming up is normally one of my busiest weekends of the whole year,” she said. “The biggest thing is for us to promote that there’s still a lot to do in hopes that everybody will still come. The [Raymond R. “Andy” Guest Jr. Shenandoah River] state park is still open. And, the river’s still open.”

Neil Myers, who owns The Inn at Vaucluse Spring near Stephens City with her husband, Barry, said whether their business is affected depends on how long the shutdown continues.

“I’ve already been thinking in terms of alternate places that we can send people off to [to see leaves] — Fort Valley, or even into West Virginia,” Myers said. “There are places that we can send people for scenic drives, and that sort of thing. Our October weekends are pretty much booked already anyway.”

One place tourists can visit is Belle Grove Plantation, south of Middletown.

The plantation is a partner in the Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park, but is a nonprofit organization, and remains open, Executive Director Kristen Laise said.

“The park rangers do come to Belle Grove to do programs just about every day so that’s canceled,” she said.

Belle Grove owns the plantation house, and the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation owns the adjoining land, according to Laise.

The U.S. Border Collie Handlers’ Association’s National Sheepdog Finals will go on as scheduled Oct. 8-13 at Belle Grove, she said.

“We have about 650 sheep on the way, so we’re ready for them,” Laise said. “If people find themselves with time on their hands, we’re a great place to visit.”

While there are people in the region who work for the federal government either right in Winchester, or commute to Northern Virginia or Washington, D.C., the number isn’t very large, Winchester-Frederick County Economic Development Commission Executive Director Patrick Barker said.

“It’s a trickle-down impact,” he said. “A lot of it depends on the length of the shutdown. [The impact] shouldn’t be enormous given the number of federal government jobs in this marketplace.

“The whole sequestration issue probably has much more impact, both locally and regionally, than perhaps the shutdown, so it depends on how long it goes.”

The closure’s timeframe was also brought up by Frank Phillips, president and CEO of Golden Seal Enterprises. The Winchester company provides security and protective services here and abroad.

“I suspect it will be a week or two before it affects anything we’re doing, if at all,” Phillips said.

At Winchester National Cemetery, burials will continue, but they may be on a reduced schedule, according to Steven Fezler, a director of several cemeteries for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Cemetery Administration.

Attempts to reach representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Winchester office were unsuccessful.

— Contact Sally Voth at svoth@winchesterstar.com