Swearing off work on inaugural day

If Barack Obama is going to bring the country out of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, he'll have to wait until at least Wednesday.

The inauguration of the 44th U.S. president won't be a day of productivity for many businesses in Southern California and around the nation, but rather a day of celebration. And for one Los Angeles public relations firm, today will be a day of waffles.

"For democracy to work, everyone needs to be engaged and involved, whether or not you voted for who won -- and nobody can turn down a good waffle," said Eric Borsum, general manager of Paine PR. "Everyone can share their views in a constructive dialogue, and over a meal is one of the best ways to do that."

East Coast companies might take more of a productivity hit because the swearing-in is scheduled for about noon Eastern Standard Time. One human resources organization even estimated that as much as 5% of U.S. businesses would close for the day.

Paine PR is opening up its conference room and break room, equipped with flat-panel TVs, to the L.A. office's 20 employees to take as much time as they'd like to watch Obama take the oath of office with a hand on Abraham Lincoln's Bible. An additional 60 employees at offices in Orange County and New York won't get the waffles but will get to see the ceremony at work.

"The employees in the office suggested the waffle breakfast, and it seemed like too good an idea to pass up," Borsum said. "We've done breakfasts together in the past, and it's becoming a part of our workplace culture."

The TVs at Paine PR will be on all day with the inauguration coverage, he said, and employees can participate if they wish.

"We think we'll get everyone around the table, but not everyone is an Obama supporter, so they can come and go as they please if they please," Borsum said. "We trust people to get some work done during the day too. We're all responsible here."

Some employees may even bring their laptops to the table to work and watch the daylong coverage, he said.

At 30 Minute Photos Etc. in Irvine, owner Mitch Goldstone expects one of the least profitable days of business since the photo development shop opened in 1990 -- but that's OK with him.

"We're actually shutting down the business for the day and opening the storefront to a party," Goldstone said. "The only thing that will be developing any photos Inauguration Day is our Kodak kiosks."

The kiosks will be printing photos free today, he said, and food and photo-related prizes will be given away at the store as well.

Each employee of the photo shop will have the day off, he said, and thousands of dollars in profit will be lost.

"It's a day that isn't going to be very productive workwise," Goldstone said.

More than 150 people are expected to show up at the party, he said.

"We've been seeing the biggest response to the party on Twitter," Goldstone said. "But this is about getting people together to celebrate this historic event."

But not every company can afford to serve a waffle breakfast or give away door prizes.

"We are too busy to stop production for a day," said Debby Dodd, marketing manager for Premio Inc., a computer manufacturing company in City of Industry.

"It's the start of the year, one of our busiest times of the year, and we've got work to do. If people want to watch the inauguration, they can do so at home in the evening on their personal time."

The majority of the workforce at Premio Inc. supports Obama, Dodd said, but in a tough economy a day off isn't worth the risk.

"We have customers and we have to have our work done on time and to our customers," she said. "It's our responsibility."

But as soon as she gets home, Dodd said, she'll be watching the inauguration on her digital video recorder.

"Unfortunately I wasn't invited to the inauguration, but I will definitely watch him because I picked him," she said. "Maybe next time I'll get invited to D.C."

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nathan.olivarezgiles @latimes.com

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