As the area and the country heads towards the end of what most believe will be a lackluster Christmas season, the topic of conversation over coffee most mornings is — of course — the economy.
Most tell me they are following the national trend of cutting way back on Christmas spending this year. No big-ticket items, a shorter list of those who receive gifts, no credit card spending sprees. The plan is to hold on to what little is left and hope things turn around sometime next year.
Even the weather is depressed. Rain drenches Southwestern Virginia today in what has been, for the most part, a cloudy, sunless December of cold, damp days and freezing nights.
Joy to the World is hard to find in this holiday season.
Most that I talk to around the breakfast table at Blue Ridge Restaurant are split on financial bailouts by the federal government. Some feel Congress should bail out the auto companies but not the banks. Others say the banks are more important than the cars. Still others say both should have been allowed to fail.
One needs only to drive around the area to see what the economic depression hath wrought: Glassners Jewelry in Roanoke is closing its doors. T-Bone Jacks on Electric Road in Roanoke County closed without warning. Going out of business signs compete with Christmas decorations at malls and along shopping strips.
Lemons Jewelry in Floyd gave up the ghost before the holiday season. Vernon Baker is retiring and Harris & Baker Furniture will disappear into history after the holidays. Close to a thousand residents of the region have lost their jobs since October.
Record numbers of companies will go bankrupt next year with 200,000 insolvencies in Europe alone and “an explosion” of failed businesses in the US, according to the world’s largest credit insurer.
The US will see 62,000 companies go bust next year, compared with 42,000 this year and 28,000 last year, says a report by Euler Hermes, part of German insurer Allianz.
As I talk with business owners in and around Floyd, I wonder how many of those 62,000 companies will be located here or nearby.