Effects from shutdown felt by small business owners in Augusta

When Maninder Singh looks out the window of his Beech Island convenience store each morning, he sees the dwindling traffic since the federal government shutdown.

“Normally this road is very busy in the morning from 4 o’clock until 5:30 or 6 o’clock,” Singh said, motioning toward Sand Bar Ferry Road, a thoroughfare for many Savannah River Site commuters. “It’s hard for you to make a turn out, and that same thing happened in the evening from 4 to 6. (Now) it gets slower and slower day by day.”

Workers at SRS have been among the hardest hit by the partial U.S. government shutdown, which entered its 14th day Monday. On Oct. 3, the liquid waste contractor Savannah River Remediation furloughed about 1,400 workers, and announcements were made last week that the site’s security contractor, Wackenhut Services Inc., furloughed 270 workers.

The economic hardships also have trickled down progressively to small businesses that cater to the SRS workforce.

For seven years, Singh’s Manis Mart has been a popular spot for SRS workers stopping by in the mornings to fill up on gas, buy a cup of coffee or grab a quick breakfast item to go. In the evenings, Singh rings up beer and liquor purchases, lottery tickets and other sales.

He has watched business slide by at least 20 percent since Oct. 1.

“It’s everywhere,” Singh said. “It’s not only my store. It’s the same thing for everybody.”

Customer morale and sales aren’t much better at Flowers Cafe in New Ellenton, a small Aiken County town whose economic fortunes are intertwined with SRS.

Owner Paulette Flowers opened the restaurant just five months ago to a crowd that travels from nearby SRS on their lunch break.

Three weeks ago, Flowers said, she averaged about 60 diners. As of last week, that number had dropped to 15 customers.

“There was such a need for it when we opened,” Flowers said. “From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. we hardly got a breather, and now it’s just like they drizzle in and out. If they lay off another 5,000, we’re probably going to have to close the doors.”

The blow to business is the same for several establishments in New Ellenton’s downtown district, said Flowers, adding that SRS is the backbone for other nearby communities such as North Augusta and Jackson.

“When you think about the impact to Fort Gordon and the Savannah River Site, those are major installations here,” said Bill Thompson, the executive vice president of Queensborough National Bank & Trust Co. “It naturally affects our economy is a less than positive way.” Loan activity at the metro Augusta branches has slowed, though Thompson said he was unable to determine how much without doing extensive research.

Additionally, any loans applied for through the Small Business Administration will remain on hold until the shutdown is remedied and offices reopen. Thompson said his bank typically processes about five small-business loans each month.

For other local operations, the long-term effects to arise from the shutdown are frustrating and will likely prove to be time-consuming.

At an employment agency such as Augusta Staffing Associates, the problem encountered is twofold. Because of shutdown closures, temp-to-hire employees without a Social Security card are unable to obtain one, and E-Verify, an Internet-based system that determines employees’ work eligibility, is down.

More than 100 files are backlogged at the agency, leaving the unemployed seeking temporary jobs in call centers and manufacturing plants out of work, said staffing specialist Robert Kelly.

After a resolution is finally made to the budget crisis, going back and updating files will take some time, he said.

“It’s clogging up some processes in house,” Kelly said. “They’re piling work on us.”

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