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Business Not Yet as Usual Since Sept. 11

Sluggishness still being felt around town.

On Thursday and Friday of last week, leading up to St. Patrick’s Day, more than the luck of the Irish was with local businesses enjoying warm, pre-spring weather.

While some suffered the effects of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks worse than others, many believe that six months later, the tide is turning and recovery is well under way.

“There’s still a lot of great bargains to be had in hotel travel,” said Hyatt Dulles general manager James “Jim” Deuel, also chairman of the Herndon Dulles Chamber of Commerce. “Occupancy is in the low 60s – about the same as it was [this time] last year. We’re looking at April through June as a period of full comeback – it’s tourist season for the D.C. area.”

Deuel said percent of occupancy dropped to the high 40s during October and November, “the lowest point. That’s pretty hard to swallow. We’re usually in the mid-80s. September through November is strong for the industry — people are back to work after Labor Day, there are fall meetings and conventions before Thanksgiving,” he said.

As for the 150-person Hyatt Dulles staff, Deuel said, “pretty much everyone is back to full schedules. We had a busy January.” At the low point, Deuel said employment was down around 100, with even managers working limited schedules.

But Deuel does not attribute the downturn solely to Sept. 11. The economy was hurting last year. There was a lot of sluggishness. It started in Sept. 2000 with a bit of a slowdown, but it was busy in Jan. 2001 leading up to the inauguration,” he said, followed by a slide the remainder of the year.

WHILE DEUEL experienced more than the effects of Sept. 11, Jack Corkey, owner of Great Harvest Bread Company in Herndon and Vienna, has been rolling in dough.

“Business was not affected at all. The first three days after [Sept. 11] when everyone was glued to the TV, we were slow. We had a huge December. February was up 15 percent from last year,” said Corkey. “We tend to do better when restaurants are slow — people eat at home more,” he said.

One such restaurant is Jimmy’s Old Town Tavern, while bustling last Friday during the dinner rush due to St. Patrick’s Day weekend, has been more the recent exception, rather than the rule.

“September through December were the four worst months in the history of Jimmy’s — mostly in the dining room,” said five-year owner Jimmy Cirrito. “A lot of people got laid off. Families who used to come in all the time, don’t because dad got laid off. Look how many people from United Airlines got laid off — a lot of them came here,” he said.

“Friday nights came back strong in February. Up until Sept. 11, there was never a Friday night without a wait for a table. September through January, you could walk right in and sit down,” said Cirrito.

Cirrito said the reduced traffic meant cutting back on staff and reducing the number of shifts worked by employees not cut. “And the people who were working said their tips went way down — at least 15 percent. But nothing’s changed for us — same atmosphere, menu prices didn’t go up and I don’t think a new restaurant opened up to steal our dinner business. I’m barely making payroll. I’m the last one to get paid around here. But we’re still here,” said Cirrito.

And still doing the things that Jimmy’s is known for — such as continuing to raise money for charity and continuing to participate in Town activities.

This past St. Patrick’s Day weekend Jimmy’s raised money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) and will have a booth at this year’s Council for the Arts of Herndon Taste of the Town event on Thursday, March 21.

WHILE JIMMY’S, a sit-down restaurant, felt the Sept. 11 sting past December, so too did fast food establishments such as the Burger King on Elden Street. “There was a noticeable drop until December,” said manager George Sterling, with Burger King six years.

“There’s been an upward trend since then. Good weather, the government announced we’re heading out of the recession helped. We didn’t let people go — we reduced some hours — that has picked up again. But we haven’t looked to hire additional people as we might have wanted,” said Sterling.

Some businesses remained busy even on Sept. 11. “We were not really affected by Sept. 11,” said Sheldonna Robinson, co-owner with her husband of Sheldeez Salon on Station Street. “We were overly busy on Sept. 11 — no cancellations. Regular clients of mine from D.C. work at the Pentagon — they were too upset to talk about it — they came here instead of going home. People needed something positive,” said Robinson.

“Getting your hair done makes you feel better. You feel renewed,” said Karen Davis of Ashburn, a client of Robinson’s.