LA county wary of shutdown

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Impact > Long-term effect, though, could be significant especially if lab closes

By Arin McKenna

Most of Los Alamos County has only felt ripple effects from the federal shutdown so far: a few meetings with government workers are on hold, the county’s scheduled photo op to catch the fall colors in the Valles Caldera has been cancelled.

But if the shutdown continues long enough to suspend lab operations, the local economy will be hurting.

The closure of Bandelier National Monument is having the most direct impact on White Rock businesses.
Bandelier Grill owner Brian Appell noticed a 50 percent downturn in business immediately. Appell believes fear of an extended shutdown is partially responsible.

“I think some of our local population is worried and holding onto their earnings,” Appell said.
Appell can see the White Rock Visitor Center from his window, including the large sign announcing the park closure and the empty parking lot.

“It’s already a struggle to get customers here in White Rock, and when something like this happens, it just adds insult to injury,” Appell said.

Trish Sanchez, who co-owns Time Out Pizza with her husband Omar, is not so sure the closure is affecting their business.

“Today was an extremely slow day; yesterday was extremely busy,” Sanchez said. “This time of year, it slows down tremendously anyway, so right now it’s hard to say whether or not it has anything to do with the shutdown or if it’s just that time of year.

“The longer it goes on, obviously, the more affected we all will be.”

Hampton Inn General Manager Nancy Chavez definitely attributes the park’s shutdown to a drop in bookings.

“Nobody’s coming in. We’re only at about 40 percent occupied,” Chavez said. “It usually slows down this time of year, but we would normally be at 60 or 70 percent.”

There has been one unexpected perk from the closure: the visitor center’s RV parking is booked to capacity, since campgrounds in national parks and national forests are shuttered. The visitor center also saw unusually large numbers the weekend before the closure as visitors scrambled to get to the park before the impending closure.

Both visitor centers and area hotels are also directing visitors to the Los Alamos Historical Museum and the Bradbury Science Museum, as well as local trails, state parks and Santa Clara Pueblo’s Puye Cliff Dwellings.

It is one of the worse times of year for Bandelier to close.

“One concern is with the Albuquerque (International) Balloon Fiesta going on, it’s pretty much a strong time of year for tourism,” County Administrator Harry Burgess said. “As people are in the state, they often come to Bandelier.

With Bandelier closed, that means the people who would be coming here this time of year to view it aren’t going to be.”

Although it is too early to estimate how much tourism revenue will be lost, there are signs that those who would normally come to Bandelier are seeking alternative activities.

“I met some people yesterday who were visiting from Southern Ohio, and they had come up early for Balloon Fiesta,” said Katy Korkos, Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce Member Services Coordinator

“They had decided, since all the national parks were closed, that they would go to the Navajo Nation Fair and Rodeo.”

The possibility of Los Alamos National Laboratory closing — which could affect everyone from restaurateurs to retail operations —is the cloud overshadowing the business community.

CB Fox owner Dave Fox is taking that scenario in stride. Fox carries merchandise that balances his customers’ needs and wants, so the business maintains a sustainable bottom line from people purchasing “must have” items even during a downturn.

Fox’s 34 years in business has also taught him that the bumps in the road are temporary.

“I’m not concerned. We’ve been here before, with voluntary or involuntary rifts, and general downturns,” Fox said. “Our experience says that our customers are very steady, and we don’t see that changing at all.”

The rest of the community may not be so sanguine. Most people seemed to be closely monitoring the situation and waiting for the other shoe to drop.

The county is likely to breathe a collective sigh of relief when the Washington stalemate ends and the federal government opens for business as usual.