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Surviving the economy

EDITOR'S NOTE: It's tough out there. The economy is in a down cycle, and the effects are being felt everywhere. For this year's Hernando Business section, the Times asked several business people how the economy has affected their business during the past year and what their outlook is for 2003. We also asked if they had any specific business goals for the coming year.

By Times staff writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 16, 2003

Mykonos II Restaurant, Brooksville

Mary Smith, manager of Mykonos II Restaurant on W Jefferson Street in Brooksville, said business over the past two years has not been terrific, "but we've weathered the storm." In the restaurant business, "the good news is people always want to eat," Smith said. She credits the restaurant's continued success to its loyal customers and the fact that a lot of the staff has been around for a long time.

After expanding the restaurant several years ago, Smith said there are no immediate plans to add on again. One thing that will expand, however, is the menu. "This coming year we will be adding new dishes to our menu," she said.

So far, three spinach medleys and a chicken teriyaki garden salad have been added. This summer, for the first time, Mykonos will offer homemade ice cream.

"Customers have often asked for it, so we decided to give it a try," Smith said.

Fine Lines Boutique, Spring Hill

"We've only been in business for two years, so it's a little hard to say," said Lois Dias, one of three owners of Fine Lines Boutique, when asked how the economy has affected business. She said she can't predict what lies ahead, with the prospect for war this year. Dias, along with Janet Rowe and Irene Adjan, owns the small boutique shop on Commercial Way in Spring Hill.

Weeki Wachee Marina, Weeki Wachee

Jim Lanier, along with his wife, Pat, has been feeling the pinch of the recession this past year at Weeki Wachee Marina on Shoal Line Boulevard. The marina employs six people and has been in business for 26 years.

"I sure hope it improves. It was pretty quiet last year," Lanier said of his business.

Lanier said he has no plans for expansion, "but I don't plan on any layoffs either. I'm just planning to catch up to where we were.

"Hopefully, if I can get things turned around, I may be looking to hire one more."

Bell's Pawn Shoppe, Brooksville

Thomas Bell, owner of Bell's Pawn Shoppe on Cortez Boulevard east of Brooksville, has been in business since 1999. Although Bell's business has seen worse times, "the economy is steadily going downhill," he said, and "sales have dropped."

With so many people out of work, one might figure that more people might be trying to sell possessions to help make ends meet. But Bell says he hasn't seen a big increase in sales. "People are just not buying," he said.

Bell said he is trying to get more creative to make sales. He said he is listing some items on eBay.

Heron Publishing and Visual Spectrum, Spring Hill

David and Maria Kretschmar, co-owners of Visual Spectrum and Heron Publishing, both on Commercial Way in Spring Hill, said 2002 was an "expansion year" for their businesses.

"As business owners and operators, I would describe 2002 as very, very intense," said Maria Kretschmar. "With all the growth and activity, it has been very exciting and at times exhausting." She said Visual Spectrum has several long-term clients in the building industry whose businesses are thriving.

The down side, Kretschmar said, is that because business is good, there is more competition.

"More people bring more business owners, and only the skilled will survive," she said. "This will be our 20th year in this county and in private business for 10 years. We understand that it takes time to build a strong business, and we never take it for granted. We aim to increase our sales and our bottom line by keeping our current customers happy and seeking new ones."

Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative, Spring Hill

A strong building industry has saved the Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative from feeling the effects of a weak economy, said Billy E. Brown, general manager of the cooperative.

"We've had tremendous growth at a level we haven't seen in a long while," Brown said.

The company has a lot of projects already on the drawing board, he said, and because of those projects, "we'll have big construction of our own to accommodate the new customers."

Brown said the company would be hiring outside construction workers, not increasing its own workforce, to complete its project.

"But this construction project itself would help the local economy," he said.

During 2003, Withlacoochee anticipates continued growth.

Noting Hernando's proximity to Tampa, Brown said: "Things are moving north, and we anticipate a good year."

Bank of America, Weeki Wachee

John Ehlenbeck, vice president of Bank of America, with Hernando headquarters in Weeki Wachee, said he expects business as usual in 2003.

"Residential construction demand will remain strong, assuming we do not see a spike in interest rates," Ehlenbeck said. "From a bank perspective, I believe the refinance onslaught will subside since most individuals and businesses have already refinanced if advantageous."

He said he expects more announcements this year by big companies that they are bringing stores and restaurants to Hernando County. "Our population continues to increase, and that is what drives (the companies') decisions," he said.

Ehlenbeck said he is also hopeful Hernando will see positive results from the efforts of the county's Office of Business Development.

Joni Industries and Seaboard Pencil Co., Brooksville

Gus Guadagnino, owner of Joni Industries and Seaboard Pencil Co. at the Airport Industrial Park south of Brooksville, said, without hesitation: "My outlook for 2003 is wonderful."

Although he noted that everyone is affected by the weak economy, he said, "some choose to be affected by it, while I choose to affect it." He said his companies have "identified what we need to do and what direction we should be heading in."

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