Articles

A Small Business Dies

July 27, 2011

This Sunday, while Congress will continue battling over the debt ceiling at one end of Pennsylvania Avenue, across town where Georgetown begins, at the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and M Street, Furin's restaurant will close after 27 years.

The family diner, a D.C. landmark, featured wafer-thin pancakes, great sandwiches, homemade soups and the capital's best cakes and cupcakes. It drew generations of students, social types, power brokers and travelers wealthy enough to stay at the Four Seasons across the street but savvy enough to know where to get a wonderful breakfast.

Bernard Furin came to Washington in 1960 after serving in the Army and graduating from Penn State on the GI Bill. For over two decades, he worked in catering, handling events from the State Department to the Smithsonian. In 1984 Mr. Furin went out on his own, creating a welcoming joint that won a loyal clientele. His wife, Wendy, would bring regulars decaf or regular without asking. But the last three years have been tough ones, and the business has bled enough.

A small business shutting down has become too frequent a sight in America. Such enterprises are always coming and going, but recently there have been many more going than coming. While the Commerce Department says 552,600 small businesses opened in 2009, more than 721,700 closed or went bankrupt. And 2010 looks like it was even worse.

No small business ends for just one reason. But with fewer conventions coming to Washington, a slow economy and people dining out less, it got gradually tougher to keep Furin's doors open.

Its fate is a reminder to Washington politicians all along Pennsylvania Avenue that their decisions affect real human beings. Statistics are important, but behind every number is a real person.

This is worth recalling during the debt-ceiling debate. This latest chapter of Obama-era high drama comes amid high unemployment, anemic growth, exploding deficits and collapsing public confidence. Americans deeply want a change. They've given the president time for his experiment in spending the country's way to prosperity, and they have concluded that his course has failed.

In the debt-ceiling debate, Mr. Obama had his best and last moment to restrain federal spending and thereby change the trajectory of his profligate presidency. But he let it pass.

He will come to regret his decision. Those who argue that the debt-ceiling controversy will resuscitate Mr. Obama's political fortunes are wrong, at least so far. According to Gallup, Mr. Obama averaged a 43% job-approval rating for the week of July 18-24, matching his lowest weekly average.

It is true that when compared to Congress, a president will always look better. In a July 17 CBS News survey, 43% approved of the president's handling of the debt crisis while 21% approved of how Republicans in Congress are handling the matter. And in a July 17 Washington Post/ABC news poll, 36% said they would blame the president and 42% said they would blame Republicans in Congress if the debt limit is not raised and bad things happen.

Still, Mr. Obama is not out of danger. The names of House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will not be matched with the president's on the 2012 ballot. Instead, he will be paired with a Republican unsullied by the debt-ceiling mess and able to link our struggling economy to the president's policies.

Which brings us back to Furin's restaurant. Bernie Furin's son, Chris, will try his hand at an Internet-based specialty cake business, a sideline at the restaurant that has developed a fanatical following. But when the restaurant closes Sunday, 14 people will lose their jobs. Its patrons will lose a favorite joint, and the neighborhood will lose some sense of community.

There are worse hardship cases in America, but this one is bad enough. It is in large part the result of the economy that Mr. Obama owns. The 2012 election will have many twists and turns, many story lines and subplots as candidates rise and fall. But in the end, a large part of the contest will be about Mr. Obama's stewardship of the economy—and what happened as a result to the Bernie Furins of America, their hard work, and the enterprises they built.

This article originally appeared on WSJ.com on Wednesday, July 27, 2011.

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