Advertisement
  1. Archive

THE PINCH GETS MORE PAINFUL

The housing market's malaise has dragged down businesses throughout the county.

David Hesser drives enough to know his auto body shop could have plenty of business. When don't you see at least one fender bender on local streets and highways?

But the workload at his 40-year-old Gulf Coast Collision on U.S. 19 was off nearly 30 percent last year. Work was so slow, Hesser had to let go of two employees.

Hesser wasn't sure exactly why until insurance companies clued him in on one explanation: More people involved in minor car accidents are filing claims, getting their checks and spending the much-needed cash on bills, not repairs.

Business, Hesser said, "is sliding down."

Gulf Coast Collision is not alone. Other independent Pasco businesses such as flower shops, beauty salons and pool builders say they are hurting amid the housing market slump, the subprime mortgage debacle, shaky consumer confidence and the rise in gas prices.

Even places that are doing well have problems.

Sal Argento says business at his Hudson restaurant was up nearly 30 percent in 2007.

But guess what else was up: Delivery costs. The power bill. The price of eggs.

"Eggs!" said Argento. "What the hell does a chicken have to do with the economy?"

That's hard to say. But there are more obvious explanations for why certain other businesses are having a rough time: They are tied to home building.

New Port Richey Mayor Dan Tipton said business at his interiors company was down 40 percent in 2006 and another 80 percent in 2007. He said many of his friends - painters and framers, for instance - share his misery.

"This county had grown and prospered due to all the new homes," said Tipton, who is running for Pasco County clerk of courts.

But times have changed. "We're struggling and starving like everybody else," he said.

In Land O'Lakes, family-owned Stevens Pools, which has been in business for 40 years, had a 35 percent reduction in business in 2007, said store manager Mike Burnett.

Two years ago Stevens was starting about two or three pools a week. Burnett said the company now starts that many a month.

Burnett said residents are putting off pools because they don't want to increase the value of their homes and, thus, their tax liability. He fears last week's passage of a slate of tax breaks may not be enough to help people feeling the economic pinch from factors other than just property taxes.

"Everything is kind of caving in," he said. "There's been lean years before. I think it's worse than we've seen it in a lot of years. But it is Florida, and hopefully people are going to want swimming pools."

Hudson Hardware owner Paul Koreen says business at his store is off about 10 percent - and he feels pretty lucky.

"There's always something that has to be fixed," said Koreen. "But people are doing as little as possible."

He said he hears from a lot of customers, especially those on fixed incomes, worried about gas, electricity, materials. "People are scared," he said.

Some businesses experiencing slow times don't have a direct connection to the housing market.

In Wesley Chapel, some business are hurt by economic conditions and also by ongoing road construction - made necessary because of all that residential growth - that can make pulling into their parking lots difficult.

Wendy Forbes, who works at Flowers and More at Hollybrook Plaza in Wesley Chapel, said she saw a steady decrease in business in 2007.

"Everyone needs flowers," Forbes said. "But it's also one of the last things on your list if you're watching money."

At the upscale Eden Salon and Spa in Land O'Lakes, customers are still coming in but getting by with less. If they get their hair colored, for instance, they hold off on a cut. Or they'll get partial highlights rather than full highlights.

"There's a big difference in where we were a year ago," said Diane Yauger, who co-owns the 21/2-year-old business with Ellen Tracy.

Banker Jack Smith, who has worked in Pasco for more than 30 years, said he's urging people to take the long view.

"It seems to me that sometimes on the news, particularly TV news, they talk about the woes of the business world and people react to that," said Smith, senior vice president for business at Patriot Bank. "I think it's a cycle."

Smith said businesses in the more difficult positions are ones that didn't set aside money when times were better.

"If they're in a debt position, it's going to be very tough," Smith said. "By and large, the small businesses I'm familiar with, some of them even though business is off, they're ready to wait for recovery."

The waiting isn't easy. Rick Bhula, managing partner of Majik Touch Cleaners of Odessa, said overall business at his eight dry cleaning locations was down 8 percent last year. He had to reduce the hours of some employees.

"It's not really bad," he said. "But it's not really good, either."

Fuel prices have hurt him. Three years ago, $35 filled up one of his delivery vans. Now it's more than $90. Supplies, including clothes hangers, have gone up nearly 70 percent.

Dry cleaners could be considered another indirect victim of the sagging housing market.

Bhula said business from his best clients has fallen off considerably in the last two years. Who were his No. 1 customers?

Real estate agents.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Advertisement
Advertisement