As the longest federal government shutdown in decades stretched into its sixth week, local businesses continue to feel the pinch. President Trump announced on Friday, Jan. 25, that he would sign legislation that would keep the government open for three weeks and planned on having furloughed employees' back pay sent "quickly or as soon as possible."

By Friday evening, legislation passed the Senate and the House and the president reopened the government, temporarily.

In Eatonville and Ashford, local businesses felt the pinch of the shutdown. Particularly hard-hit are those that rely heavily on tourism to Mount Rainier, such as the handful of shops and inns scattered about the town of Ashford, just outside the entrance to Mount Rainier National Park.

"It's very scary. Nobody knows what's going on," said Annette Oh, owner of the Ashford General Store.

She described how business is down by at least 30 percent compared to normal, with very little traffic passing by the highway in front of the store.

It's a sentiment shared by many other business owners in Ashford.

At Whittaker Mountaineering, a shop tailored to climbing and other outdoor adventure sports, business has dropped by almost half.

"We're not getting the day trippers, which is our bread and butter," said Operations Manager Rebecca Brooks. "Winter is a very fragile time of year for us anyway." 

The combined hit of minimal snowfall this year together with only limited access into the national park has made things more difficult.

The National Park Service, which falls under the United States Department of the Interior, is one of the many agencies which were forced to cease all but the most essential operations and furlough the majority of its workers while Congress continued to stall on passing a bill to restore funding of government agencies. As a result, Mount Rainier National Park (along with many others around the country) was completely closed in early January and is now open only as far as Longmire. As of Friday, it was unclear when the park would open fully. 

Unfortunately for winter sports enthusiasts and the businesses that cater to them, the only area within the park where sledding and other off-trail activity is allowed is "in the designated area at Paradise, which is closed," according to a news release. This deterred many would-be visitors altogether, which had a ripple effect on businesses of all types.

"It touches everybody here (in Ashford)," said Brooks. 

Snowshoes and tire chain rentals, a service Brooks said she's proud to provide, have not been in high demand. Slow sales have caused her to scale back employee hours as well as cancel orders or refrain from stocking up on inventory until things improve. This, in turn, has begun to affect vendors such as large companies like The North Face in Seattle.

Meanwhile, nearby inns and restaurants have been similarly affected.

The Highlander Restaurant and Lounge, normally open seven days a week, has taken to closing its doors from Monday to Wednesday. The usually bustling weekend breakfast crowd has been reduced by half, according to a bartender there.

Ashford's many inns and guesthouses have also taken a hit, with several innkeepers describing business sales as "way, way down." While many guests made their reservations prior to the shutdown, uncertainty over whether or not the park will fully reopen soon has dissuaded others for the coming months.

"February and March look really bad," said Bob Chirum and Joe Piotrowski, co-owners and operators of the Stone Creek Lodge at Mount Rainier, which sits just 200 yards from the park's Nisqually entrance.

They described how, as a seasonal business, they're used to budgeting for slow times. 

"Four months pays for 12," said Chirum. 

They're taking advantage of current vacancies to work on updating and remodeling their cabins. But they acknowledged that the uncertainty over when the shutdown is making them cautious about large capital expenditures.

"We're not spending money to make improvements until we know," said Piotrowski.

As with Whittaker Mountaineering, this means less business for vendors throughout the region.

"We're not spending as much at Arrow Lumber in Eatonville or the Do It Best Northwest Home Center in Morton," Piotrowski added.

Both owners were adamant that, while they can cope for now, an extended shutdown would have done grave and perhaps even irreparable harm.

"This can't go on through the summer," exclaimed Piotrowski.

"It would be disastrous for the region," Chirum concurred.

As for those who work within the park itself, delayed or not-earned paychecks are taking their toll. While federal employees will eventually receive back-pay, those working for private contractors such as Rainier Service Group (which employs tour bus drivers, cooks, janitors, and other support staff) will not. 

The lone employee manning the nearly empty gift shop at Longmire spoke of how workers' hours have been cut back to only two or three days a week and during the time when the park was closed completely, they didn't work at all. If the "retained recreation fees" that are currently allowing Longmire to stay open run out, it will likely mean another full closure of the park and with it, scores of unpaid workers.

The employee asked to stay anonymous in fear of retribution from their employer.

A number of recent national surveys have revealed that over half of Americans have less than $1000 in savings at any given time. With the median monthly rent in the Eatonville area being around $800, those savings don't stretch far. 

Local agencies have been stepping up efforts to address the fallout.

The Eatonville School District, for instance, recently sent out an email stating that furloughed employees are now eligible to apply for schools' free and reduced meal program. 

At the Eatonville Family Agency, Director Alana Smith said that while "there's not been a huge uptick so far" in new families seeking food assistance, the agency is getting prepared.

"If it spills into February, we're expecting a huge influx of people," Smith states. "So we're ramping up for that."

Two bills that could have ended the ongoing shutdown failed in the Senate on Thursday, Jan. 24. While Trump reopened the government for three weeks on Friday, negotiations are ongoing and it's unclear whether the government will stay open or when furloughed workers will receive back pay.