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Squeezed, but not squashed
People of all ages and incomes feel the economys pinch
1012economy sj
Ben Martin, co-owner of Martin Furniture Co. in Gainesville, talks with salesperson Debbie Williams in the store's showroom. While last year was the business' best sales year, Martin admits to having less foot traffic this year. - photo by Tom Reed


Duane Fry talks about his years investigating securities fraud

Whatever your age, job or education level it seems that everyone is hit by the gloomy economy.

So, we decided to talk to some local folks to see how their family and business economics have been affected by the financial downturn.

Many would think that local, independent businesses are suffering from slower foot traffic and Ben Martin, co-owner of Martin Furniture Co. in downtown Gainesville, confirmed that his business has been slowing for months. But at the same time, "2007 was our best year we had ever had," he said.

Gainesville State College students are feeling the pinch too, but in a different way.

Jacob Tkalec, Carlos Ruiz and Drew Floyd all agreed they are skimping on things like movies, gas and groceries.

"First thing that I'm cutting back on is food," Tkalec said. "It's a pain to buy gas. I've stopped buying video games; nothing fun, no movies ... just trying to get money and save up because who knows what could happen."

For retirees, things are even more testy with 401(k)s and pension funds losing their values. But Duane Fry, who served as the former director of the major fraud unit with the Secretary of State, said he never really trusted his retirement funds to the stock market anyway.

"I guess I have sort of a warped view of that industry because I worked with the crooks and the bad guys," he said. "I don't think that we've cut back on groceries; I'd say we are wise shoppers and look for bargains.

"I think it's affected us more in our travel because when we retired we wanted to travel."

Travel plans also are on the mind of stay-at-home mom Beth Waller. She said just recently her family has made some decisions based on the country's economic future. The Wallers may wait on a family trip and on making home renovations.

But local resident Brad Abernathy has a positive spin on the economy in Hall County.

"I might be a shining light in this," said Abernathy, an associate broker with The Norton Agency. "I think everyone has had to tighten their belts; we've had to tighten our belts.

"We have less homes on the market right now than we did a year ago ... we are set up nicely for a good recovery right here in Hall County."

Ben Martin, local business owner

For Martin, October and November should be two of the busier months at his furniture store.

The sales have slowed but Martin said he saw this coming.

"We started seeing it well over a year ago," he said. "My dad (Clifford Martin) started this store in 1945 and he was very conservative and we've tried to follow suit. We are feeling the pinch ... fortunately we own this building, we're not having to rent and we have a financial base that we are drawing on. We are just kind of hunkering down."

Martin said they are trying to cut costs, conserve and still be competitive.

"Not to sound clairvoyant ... I have kind of been preparing for this for quite some time and we've liquidated everything we've had months ago from the broad market. Been purchasing precious metals, but I have been doing that for 20 years."

Even though the market looks dismal, the Martins aren't living in fear.

They are heading to Disney World.

"The day after tomorrow we are going to Disney World," Martin said. "It has been tough, but God is still in charge."

Brad Abernathy, associate broker

For Abernathy, tightening up is what he's done with his family and business recently.

But his development property, Candler Park in Gainesville, is on the upswing.

"In the last three weeks at my development at Candler Park, we've put two of our homes under contract, both of those are closing in October," he said. "I can't explain why we are selling right now and everybody else is screaming at the TV or turning the TV off.

Abernathy, who now is with The Norton Agency, said the days of zero-down home loans are a thing of the past.

"I'm 37 and my parents always told me to save for my downpayment for our first house and we have to go back to that," he said.

Duane Fry, retiree

Duane and Pat Fry love to travel since they have entered retirement.

Pat does love those slot machines in Cherokee, N.C., and Tunica, Miss., and Duane's hobby is competition cooking.

But the couple has slowed down a little on their travel plans.

"I'd say we are driving less and that is primarily because of gas prices," Duane said. "With my hobby of competition cooking, this year I've only done six (competitions) where last year I did 10."

Duane, the former director of the major fraud unit with the Secretary of State, said he never had much faith in the stock market because of his career and has most of his money is safe in CDs.

"I sold my stock several years ago back before we got married," he said. "I put mine in CDs and the majority of hers was in CDs and when we retired.

"I watched the market go up and down. I've watched it crash, I've watched it rebound, the housing industry. The stock market is a very volatile market. It's just a gamble."

For years, Fry investigated the securities industry all over the state and said he thinks that some of the high-priced CEOs in New York were just con men.

"I guess you would say you have the legitimate con man and then you have the illegitimate con man," he said. "They fooled these companies that they would save these companies."

But even though the Frys are tightening up, Duane said they will still head up to Cherokee, N.C., next weekend. "Pat will play her slots and I'll go in the room and play my blues harp," he said.

Gainesville State College students

For those in college, it would seem that the scarcity of new jobs when they enter the real world would be a major stress factor.

But freshman Jacob Tkalec, an anthropology major, said he's worried more about right now.

"Money is really tight; it's hard to find money for everything," he said. "It's not so much worry about me as it is my mom and sister. They are barely getting by as it is."

Tkalec has already decided on the first extravagance to be cut.

"I'll probably be getting rid of my TV soon, like satellite," he said. "The basic channels - that's it."

Carlos Ruiz, 21, who spends about $30 a week on gas to get to school, said he's not worried at all about the job market when he graduates.

"I'm going to be an engineer so hopefully in a couple of years, it will be better by then," said Ruiz. Although, he added, he has moved back home to save money.

"There's always going to be a need for engineers."

Drew Floyd said he thought grocery shopping has hit him the hardest.

"Groceries are the hardest thing. They have gone up so much in the past year," he said.

Beth Waller, a stay-at-home mom

As a mom of two, Waller said she has to always be thinking of the future.

She and husband Ed Waller, owner of Green's Grocery in Gainesville, have had to start looking closer at their finances.

"It's kind of hard to answer; it hasn't been horrible," she said. "It's just more recently that we've had to be more aware ... for us it's become more of a realization that we do need to stop and take a look at what we are spending."

Waller said she is now thinking twice about more frivolous spending.

"There is a trip we were talking about that I feel like we don't need to talk about right now," she said. "You've got kids and they are out growing shoes and there's all the unexpected. We've had a lot of unexpected medical bills lately; every little bit is adding up."

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