On day 21 of the government shutdown roughly 800,000 furloughed federal employees missed their first paycheck–fortunately, they won’t need a dime to shop at these stores.
Businesses across the country are offering free services–meals, movies, and classes, among others–to all those impacted by what is poised to become the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. President Trump and Democrats in Congress have been deadlocked for weeks, unable to reach a compromise over funds for border security that would include a border wall with Mexico. With no clear end in sight, business owners have taken it upon themselves, and their wallets, to help relieve at least some of the stress that furloughed federal employees and government contractors–many whom live paycheck to paycheck–are going through right now.
“To be a true pub means to be part of the community,” says Gary Smith, co-owner of British Beer Company, a pub chain based in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Furloughed federal employees are part of his community and they also make up his customer base, he adds. As of Thursday, federal workers who show their government I.D. can get a free meal of up to $50 worth at any of the pub’s 10 locations across New Hampshire and Massachusetts. It does not include alcohol.
“They give to us 365 days a year,” says Smith. “To help out a little bit is not out of the ordinary, and it’s not something that should be looked at as being unusual.”
In Alexandria, Virginia, Danielle Romanetti has been offering free knitting classes at her yarn store Fibre Space nearly every weekday since the shutdown started. She started a similar event in 2013, during the 16-day government shutdown. This time, 165 people–both furloughed federal employees and currently unemployed government contractors–have taken advantage of the free classes, where students learn how to make knitted scarfs and hats.
“People come here to hang out and relax,” says Romanetti, who founded her business in 2009. She wanted to invite impacted workers to her shop and spend time there learning how to knit that “they would otherwise spend cleaning out their closets, obsessing about when they’re getting their next paycheck.”
Unlike in 2013, volunteers are mostly teaching the knitting classes at Romanetti’s Fibre Space. Among them is Amy Barnes, a government contractor for Homeland Security, who is currently forced out of her job. It’s come full circle for Barnes. She first learned to knit at Romanetti’s store during the 2013 government shutdown. “It saved my sanity,” she says. “Doing that became more important than whatever was not happening on the hill.”
Among the many other businesses offering free services to furloughed federal employees are Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, Baked by Yael, a bakery located directly across from the National Zoo in Washington D.C., and Michael Lastoria’s 35-store pizza chain, &pizza. According to Lastoria, his company has doled out between 15,000 and 20,000 pizzas since the shutdown started. It’s an expensive campaign, Lastoria admits, but he’s not backing down.
“We’re going to do the right thing for the federal workers and community that we serve,” he says. “We want to be on the right side of this.”
Of course, the freebies aren’t entirely altruistic. Presumably once these workers go back to work and start collecting a paycheck again, they’ll remember the kindness showed by these business owners. “We want people to remember us,” concedes Yael Krigman, founder of Baked by Yael, which is offering federal workers and contractors free food and coffee.
“We want them to remember that [we] stood by them, and we were there to help them through this time,” she says. “Hopefully, they’ll come and shop and order their gifts from us and support us for years to come.”