Shoplifting's Up, Profits Down On Recession-hit Main St.

Where Does It Hurt?/countains Face Hard Times

November 10, 1991|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Staff writer

The Maruchas are battening down the hatches, riding out another recession at the family appliance business in Odenton.

They're cuttingdown trash pick-ups and conserving energy, limiting part-timers' hours, borrowing less money and ordering less merchandise. They're holding on, but the company president is not expecting a change any time soon.

"I don't look for any turnaround for a year," said Steve Marucha,president of Marucha TV & Appliance on Odenton Road. It's his secondrecession since he joined his father, Felix, in the business in 1968. Now, he and his youngest brother, Danny, run the store. Like most small, independent retail store owners in the county, the Maruchas arefeeling the impact of a weak economy.

"Sales are down," said Steve Marucha. One reason he cited for the drop in appliance sales is theslowdown in home construction and the fact that "a lot of builders are giving away washers and dryers and refrigerators."

Forget aboutselling many dishwashers and air conditioners this year, what with people holding off on big purchases they don't have to make.

"People are holding onto their money," Marucha said.

"People are afraid to spend money," agreed John Metzger, co-manager of Bruning Paint Center in the Southgate Marketplace in Glen Burnie. "For the first time probably in their lives, their job security is gone. I don't know what it's going to take to change that."

Until this does change, Bruning doesn't figure on selling the big items, like carpets, or room-size quantities of vinyl tile.

"Floor coverings are dead," said MikeKahl, the store's co-manager. "Absolutely dead."

And Kahl said contractors, the store's biggest customers, are hurting badly. "I've had one contractor tell me it's the worst year he's ever had. He's beena painter for 20 years."

Metzger and Kahl said they've cut the cost of running the business as much as they can. "In the paint business, there are so many different products," Metzger said. "If you don'thave a good selection, you can lose sales."

At Todo Mundo, an imported clothing and jewelry store on Main Street in Annapolis, managerRosalind Gleeson said the store had put all its clothing on sale andis not ordering more for the Christmas season.

"People won't buy clothing unless it's on sale," Gleeson said. "The jewelry does all right."

While she'd normally hire up to 10 part-timers for the Christmas season, Gleeson said this year she expects to go with the four she already has. She is the store's only full-time employee.

Up thestreet at Laurance Clothing, a men's shop whose clientele can affordto drop $50, $60 or more for a sport shirt, manager F. Terry Drake said the recession was not having much impact.

"We have been fortunate in that we have been able to maintain a small increase over last year's figures," Drake said, adding that the store's regular customers tend to come from the ranks of lawyers, doctors, corporate executives, "as well as people who dress like that's where they want to be."

Down on City Dock, the manager of the Be Beep toy store said business "has been off this year." But, Barbara Smith said, "there are still birthdays, there are still presents to be bought. . . . I guess it's just adjusting to it. So you're not buying volumes of things that aren't going to sell."

Frank Funk, co-owner of Pedal Pushers, a bicycle shop in Severna Park, said he and his partner, Tom McKew, are trying to keep costs down by ordering less merchandise for Christmas than they did last year.

"We're ordering more kids' bikes, more lower-priced bikes," said Funk.

The store, which opened in April 1990, sustained 12- and 15-percent drops in sales in September and October, Funk said.

"I heard industry-wide it's down about 20 percent, so maybe I'm not doing that bad," Funk said.

If they were cutting back on bicycles, county residents were still spending money on pets, if the Small Furry Animals Co. in Severna Park is any measure.

"I haven't seen any change in business," said Bob Fiesler, who owns the pet store in the Park Plaza shopping center. As far as he can tell, the recession has only affected the demand for big birds like parrots and cockatoos, which can sell for anywhere from $400 to several thousand dollars.

But if Fiesler hasn't lost much in sales because of the recession, he said he may be losing more to theft.

"I'll say one thing, shoplifting is up," he said. He said he's caught 12 shoplifters in the store this year. In the three previous years he's been doing business in Park Plaza, he said he'd caught four.

David Greenberg, owner of Greenberg Jewelers in Brooklyn Park, said his regular customers are spending less money, "they just don't want to go out on limb, overextend themselves. I don't think there's as much impulse-buying."

He said he noticed his business starting to plummet in June."It probably is the quickest decline I've seen."

None of the shopkeepers said they were reassured by President Bush's statement that the recession is over.

"I had to laugh," said Louis Lind, GreenbergJewelers' manager. "Why doesn't this man get out of there and get back in the real world?"

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