Gas prices are at record highs. Grocery prices are spiking. Foreclosures have more than doubled in Pasco over the past year. And the housing bust has swelled the ranks of the unemployed. But business is booming; at least for local pawn shops. With the declining dollar boosting the price of gold, "People think they can get more for their jewelry," said Andrew Yasparro, owner of Pasco Jewelry & Loan Inc. at 6217 U.S. 19 in New Port Richey. A lot of people are trying to survive," Yasparro said. "They're out of work and have to feed their family. People are emptying their jewelry boxes to see what they have." Other places are seeing more foot traffic from the sluggish economy, too.
Enrollment is up 9 percent over a year ago at Pasco-Hernando Community College, with people returning to the classroom to develop new skills. "Enrollment is always inversely proportionate to the economy," said Lynn Rothman, director of marketing and public relations at PHCC. "The better the economy is, the more enrollment dips. When the economy goes south, it increases. People need training and new opportunities."
Some auto repair shops are bustling with customers who'd rather keep their old car running than buy a new one. "A lot of people are bringing vehicles in, saying they're hanging on to them until the wheels fall off," said Bill Beiswenger, manager at Valvoline Express Care at 7400 Ridge Road in New Port Richey. "People can't afford to buy a car, so they are doing repairs. Just enough to get them through."
Free books, free computers, free activities: The library is priced just right for penny-pinchers. Program attendance is up 16 percent, and use of the Internet terminals is up 19 percent over last year. "A lot of the Internet sign-up is people looking for jobs," said Linda Allen, Pasco libraries director. Books-to-movies clubs are proving especially popular: "People are really getting into that," Allen said. "A lot of people are saying, 'I'm really glad I can do this at the library because I can't afford to do this another way.' "
Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Florida used to focus on helping customers pay off overwhelming credit card debt. But the mortgage crisis and economic slump have generated a new wave of business. "Now we are seeing an increase in people with mortgage and home ownership issues," said Joanne Whittlesey, community relations manager. "That has increased in the past year. More people are coming in concerned about paying their mortgage."
The unemployment line is getting longer as people — many affected by the downturn in construction and the real estate market — try to find work. At Career Central, Pasco's unemployment and job training office, 4,316 people came to the New Port Richey office for assistance in January — up from 3,910 that month a year ago. The Zephyrhills office saw 2,437 people in January, up from 2,029. Attendance at Job Club classes has gone up about 50 percent in the past two months. "There are folks who have lost jobs, and have skills, but want to see what other jobs they can transfer skill sets to," said Lee Ellzey, president of Career Central. "We have folks nervous about what's going on, and they want to see what's available."
Camille C. Spencer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.