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Area business folks don’t fret furloughs

Three days a week, the Roadhaus Eatery and Bier Garten near Quantico Corporate Center off U.S. 1 has what the manager calls the “halfway-home happy hour.”

Traffic routinely backs up by the quaint restaurant as contractors and federal employees—civilian and military—head home from work. Understandably, some of them would rather have a beer than sit in traffic.

“We have a lot of people that come in just to grab a couple drinks on their way home and chat with their friends,” said manager Stephanie Englman. “I don’t know if you see this traffic out here, but it just kind of stops in front of us.”

It’s safe to say that among those customers are some of the 800,000 civilian Department of Defense employees who learned this week that they’ll be furloughed for 14 days between now and September. Thousands of Fredericksburg-area families collect DOD-related paychecks.

But Englman doesn’t seem too concerned that those pay cuts will hurt her business, which on Friday advertised a special of double chili cheese dogs with french fries. Actually, she said, business has improved as the weather gets better.

“People still need to eat,” Englman said, adding with a laugh: “And they’re lazy, and they don’t want to pack their lunch.”

A lot of customers love the all-you-can-eat salad bar and Ms. Martha’s homemade desserts, she noted.

And then there’s the “halfway-home happy hour.” People who are looking to save some money can always order a $2 Bud Light draft instead of a pricier German beer, Englman said.

On Friday, about 16 customers were eating lunch there a little after 1 p.m. as Fox News and ESPN played on two flat-screen TVs mounted behind the bar.

Business was kind of slow, but Englman attributed it to people leaving town for spring break—not the government furloughs.

Civilian DOD employees initially faced 22 furlough days as part of automatic spending cuts known as sequestration. On Thursday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that they would lose 14 workdays, eight fewer than originally planned.

Just up the road from the Roadhaus Eatery is the Stafford Diner, whose most expensive menu item is a $13 “tender New York steak.” Manager Vanessa Pacas, who wasn’t aware of the furloughs, said she thinks the government cuts will impact fancy restaurants, not inexpensive eateries like hers.

On Friday, she said, she jokingly told a customer that her bill was $100. The customer, who Pacas thinks works at Quantico, responded that the economy has impacted everybody, the manager recalled.

For the most part, though, “everyone’s happy here,” Pacas said.

Matthew Wilson, who owns Virginia Gold Jewelers and Pawnbrokers off U.S. 1 near Quantico, says he actually may have more customers as a result of the furloughs. People provide items to pawnbrokers as collateral for loans.

“I’m going to see more people probably loaning things and needing more money,” said Wilson, who was at Bella Cafe—next door to the pawnshop—with a man who identified himself as a DOD civilian. Or, he said, some people may try to sell him gold and silver to help make up for their lost pay.

Back at the Roadhaus Eatery, Englman recalled that every table was filled for lunch last week. Those rushes are unpredictable, but she seems confident they’ll continue happening.

“As long as we have beer, people will keep coming,” Englman said.

Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402