Downtown Phoenix Restaurants Lament Loss of Regulars, Business Since Shutdown

The three SpoonZ Cafes downtown are open only Monday through Friday and depend on their lunchtime regulars. This is the location on Second Street.
The three SpoonZ Cafes downtown are open only Monday through Friday and depend on their lunchtime regulars. This is the location on Second Street.
Julie Levin
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It's been a few weeks now since the start of the new year, but not all of Denise Bismore's customers have returned from their holiday vacations. The manager and owner of three SpoonZ Cafe locations in downtown Phoenix is missing her regular customers — the Monday-through-Friday crowd of business professionals, many of them federal employees, stopping by for a salad or sandwich on their lunch break.

"I hadn't really thought about it, because we were in holiday mode and were on Christmas break," Bismore says, "but I definitely have noticed I haven't gotten all of my people back."

One of the SpoonZ locations is at the U.S. Bank Center on First Avenue and Adams Street, right across the street from the U.S. Attorney's Office. Staff there haven't been at work since the partial government shutdown began on December 22. The state's U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Bureau of Land Management downtown offices have also been shuttered, their employees now staying at home.

"Eighty percent of my business is regulars, repeat business, so I've definitely felt the impact," Bismore says.

Another downtown eatery, The Counter, sits directly in front of the U.S. Attorney's Office. General manager Sean Silverman says business has been steady thanks to recent events and conventions in the area including the American Meteorological Society's annual meeting and Isagenix's International New Year Kickoff event.

"I've seen nothing detrimental to our business. We are still rolling great," Silverman says.

However, there has been a significant disruption in his hiring process.

“The E-Verify system that we use is shut down. … Weekly, monthly, we’re always hiring in the restaurant industry,” Silverman says. “I just hired somebody last week, and I went to E-Verify them, and it didn’t go through.”

Although the conventions did bring in some new business, Hidden Track Café and Hidden Track Bottle Shop owner Craig Dziadowicz says he definitely has noticed a difference in his sales in the past few weeks.

"From what I heard, almost half of the convention-goers that were coming in town for the meteorological convention were federal employees and were not allowed to travel." Dziadowicz says. "I'm a beer and wine shop — I see direct impact on that. Customers come into town and want to pick up some beer or wine either for their stay here or take it back, so I didn't see as many customers as I was anticipating."

Like Bismore, he says he's realized his regular customers aren't coming around as much or if they are, they aren't spending.

"I know plenty of local federal employees; they hang out, they come to my wine tastings, and I've seen them with kind of a worried face, and honestly a couple of them say, 'I don't think I can buy anything right now. I'm kind of nervous, because I don't know when I'm going to get paid next,'" Dziadowicz says.

He knows he's not the only downtown business owner with concerns that this could have a long-lasting effect.

I know other restaurants are definitely suffering ... last week should have been a pretty big, busy week, and I think we missed some tourist business," Dziadowicz says. "It definitely [has an impact] in a negative way."

The longest shutdown in United States history is now in its fourth week. It remains to be seen how long it will continue, bad news for the downtown Phoenix restaurant scene but even more troublesome for all of the government employees affected.

“Who knows how long this is going for,” Bismore says. “They’ll come back to me … but they may be brown-bagging it for a while.”

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