Businesses find niches to persevere

Published 1:34 am Sunday, July 31, 2011

Billy Jefferson, owner of Big Bargain Furniture in Washington, talks about the prevailing economic climate at his store Friday. Jefferson has been defying trends for 50 years. Despite the stubbornly gloomy economy, he has seen his business increase this year. (WDN Photo/Jonathan Clayborne)

Billy Jefferson is beating the odds.
His Big Bargain Furniture is more than enduring the troubled economy.
“Our business this year has been up,” Jefferson said at his Main Street showroom in Washington.
“Now, we’re not where we were four, five years back,” he quickly added.
Big Bargain is maintaining its customer base with the help of financing and marketing strategies honed over Jefferson’s 50 years in business.
“We are seeing our business turn around and start back growing some,” the owner said, adding he’s expanded to another storefront across the street.
Some local business owners aren’t so fortunate.
The highs and lows of the regional business climate are reflected in the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond’s latest reports on the service and manufacturing arenas.
The Fed surveys businesses and publishes its results as a measure of economic activity in a given period.
“Manufacturing activity in the central Atlantic region stalled in July after firming somewhat in June,” the reports read.
This reflects a national trend as manufacturing flatlined around the nation.
But regional activity in the service industry picked up in July, the reports show.
“Retail sales rose sharply, despite lagging big-ticket sales and weaker shopper traffic,” they read.
Though Beaufort County’s unemployment rate is “unacceptably high,” a number of its manufacturers are adding jobs, said Tom Thompson, the county’s chief economic developer.
Appliance-panel-maker PAS USA expects to move from 125 workers to 237 employees in the next three to five years, and a handful of other factories are seeking new employees, Thompson pointed out.
“Actually, Beaufort County is really starting to blossom,” he said, adding, “The recession was certainly painful. I’m not going to even try to minimize the pain.”
And though the pain hasn’t fully eased, Thompson is optimistic industry and investments in waterfront amenities will aid in bringing down the county’s unemployment numbers over time.
One businessman seeing stronger demand for his services is Tony Apple, owner of Tony’s Painting in Washington.
“Over the past six or seven months it’s been pretty steady,” Apple shared. “There have been a few weeks there when I was having to work day and night to cover two jobs so I wouldn’t lose work.”
Apple began working with his father’s painting business in 1988, and struck out on his own in 2000.
February 2010 brought his nadir.
“That whole winter there was horrible for me,” Apple said. “I worked four days that February – the whole month. I’ve never seen it that bad before in my whole life.”
He knows other painters struggling to stay afloat but, today, his work is steady.
And Apple hopes it will stay that way.
“I’ve got work lined up, so it’s good right now,” he said. “But it’s like anything else, you can’t predict the future.”