Local business owners upbeat about local economy

Published 1:14 am Tuesday, December 30, 2008

In spite of bad news about the nation’s economy, bank bail outs, and failing car manufacturers, local business owners feel optimistic about Picayune’s economic status in spite of subtle, but noticeable changes in spending habits.

“I really think Picayune is holding their own,” said Handy Cleaners owner Gloria Glidewell as a steady stream of customers kept her busy in the days before Christmas.

Glidewell added that although she had not seen a drop in business, she had heard from many of her customers that one area they were cutting back on to save money was eating out. “The restaurants, from what my customers say, are having trouble,” she explained.

She said that in the nearly three decades she has been at Handy Cleaners, what she has noticed about Pearl River County and the economy is not what is happening on Wall Street, but when area construction falls off, that is when the average working person tends to get hit the hardest. “In Pearl River County, construction dictates the economy,” Glidewell said. “If construction falls off, people tend to start to cut back.”

Customer Sandra Barker echoed Glidewell’s sentiments, noting that while she was still bringing in her clothing for alterations and cleaning, her retirement fund had taken a huge hit. “A lot of retired people like us have lost a lot of retirement money in the stock market,” said Barker. “That is where most of our problems are and we won’t recover.”

Barker, whose plans to travel with her husband during their recent retirement was sidelined by his health, said that even if they could travel like they had planned, they wouldn’t be able to. “Due to health issues we can’t travel,” said Barker. “But we couldn’t even if we wanted to.”

Duane Wheat, also a customer at Handy Cleaners, agreed, adding that, for the most part, the slumping economy was not affecting him as long as he paid attention to what he was spending, how, and where. “For me, everything is about the same,” said Wheat. “It is like the old song, don’t go too far, don’t go too fast.”

Even so, Glidewell said she could see that a subtle change was taking place in the county. “There isn’t a day that goes by that a customer doesn’t come in and say ‘my job is in jeopardy,’” said Glidewell. “Or there are going to be 400 layoffs and they’re one of those possible lay offs.”

Peggy Williams of Cottage Interiors on East Canal Street said that she saw a shift in buying patterns with people buying bigger items such as furniture from her antique shop. “I have sold more furniture than anything else,” said Williams, who attributed the bigger item sales with keeping her antique shop afloat. “Sales are as good as ever.”

Velma Kelley, who had stopped during her lunch break to check out a couple of antique chairs, said that she noticed a difference in sales at the store she worked at across the street. “There is definitely a difference,” said Kelley.

For Leigh Gilbert of Posh, except for a slight shift in sales when the new Wal-Mart went up, business was about the same as it has been for the last five years she had been at her East Canal Street location.

“Shopping habits have been different,” said Gilbert, explaining that a shift in weekday shopping has changed into weekend and late afternoon.

“I believe it is a lot of media hype that is affecting the way people shop,” said Gilbert, adding though that her sales remained strong. “People are still going to buy pajamas and people are still going to buy lingerie,” she said while checking out a customer buying last minute gifts for a holiday party.

Even the necessities such as livestock supplies are going through a subtle change as well.

Marilyn Thorpe, owner of Cale’s Farm Supply, said that she had noticed that instead of the more expensive feeds and supplements, some people were purchasing the less expensive brands in order to save money.

“Buying habits have slightly changed,” Thorpe said. “Some people are getting rid of their animals or buying a cheaper feed rather than a premium one.”

She added, the one area she saw a drastic change was the number of teens and young adults stopping in almost every day looking for employment. “What I have seen that is different is that it is difficult for people to find jobs. I am having more young people coming in to ask to work in the warehouse. They tell me they’ll do anything if they can work.”

Thorpe surmised that she believes the reason for that was because the jobs normally available to teens and young adults were being taken by older workers who couldn’t get a job anywhere else.

Even so, she felt optimistic about the local economy. “Business is good,” Thorpe said.