Nick's of Clinton draws Bill Clinton

July 21, 1993|By John B. O'Donnell | John B. O'Donnell,Staff writer

WALDORF -- The sign on the front door said, "Nick's will be closed until 12 noon on 7/21/93."

But, inside the deli and grocery store at this Charles County crossroads, things will be jumping this morning.

The meat case will be newly packed with minute care and pride by Nicholas Ferrante Sr., an Italian immigrant and patriarch of the family that owns a sausage packing plant and three Maryland stores like this. And, the television lights will be on.

The president of the United States is coming to the Waldorf store that's called Nick's of Clinton, a name that actually predates the election of Bill Clinton and refers to an older family store in the Washington suburb of Clinton.

He is coming to this conservative Southern Maryland area represented by Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, one of his most reliable allies on Capitol Hill -- and an ally who risks paying a political price for supporting him.

The president wants to talk about the budget and tax bill now being worked out in a House-Senate conference and about small business issues.

But that's not what was uppermost in the minds of the Ferrante clan, who converged on Nick's yesterday from their own pieces of the family-owned business to prepare for the presidential visit.

Asked what he would tell the president if he had a chance, Nicholas Ferrante, Jr., who owns and runs the Waldorf store, referred to some notes he had scribbled on a yellow legal pad.

At the top of his list were health care costs and people "who don't want to work because money is so readily available" through unemployment compensation and welfare.

He displayed a July 2 letter from his medical insurer saying the cost of his health care coverage for employees will go up this year -- by a whopping 73 percent, from $460.53 to $797.17, for a family, and 54 percent, from $169.94 to $262.94, for individuals.

"I'm looking" for another insurer, he said. "The employees can't afford to make the payments, and I can't afford to make the payments."

Mr. Ferrante says that he offers the group plan to his workers and pays 40 percent of the premium but that they have to pay the rest. He said he has about 45 employees but adds a half-dozen or so during the summer.

Asked about taxes and the deficit, the eldest son says reducing the deficit is the key to an improved economy and he is willing to pay higher taxes as long as the sacrifice is shared.

L "I'd rather have four tough years than a mediocre 40 years."

As he talked in his second-floor office, White House communications and security personnel were downstairs preparing for the visit.

And a dozen customers waited at the meat counter for service. One of them was Charles Chapman, a 52-year-old Vietnam combat veteran now on disability retirement from the federal government who feels he has gotten inadequate attention to his health problems from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Asked what he would tell Mr. Clinton if he had a chance today, Mr. Chapman said, "He dodged the Vietnam war. I'd tell him to help the ones that went over there."

Then, reflecting on his own problems, he added, "Maybe he did (( the right thing by dodging."

Outside, Thomas Howe was putting his 19-month old daughter, Jenny, and some items purchased from Nick's in the car.

"I'd tell him to keep trying," said the 30-year-old State Police maintenance mechanic. "I voted for him. I voted for Republicans the last two times and got let down.

"Now, he's trying, but not enough people are trying to help him."

For Nicholas Ferrante, Sr., today will be a proud one. His parents brought him to the United States first in 1927, and then, after a brief return to Italy, he came back to stay in 1935.

He served in the Army during World War II, then opened his first shop at 10th and I streets in Northeast Washington. He moved the business to Clinton in 1970 and retired eight years later, turning the operation over to Nicholas Jr.

Members of the family now have a plant that makes 75,000 pounds of sausage a week, and a store near the Capital Center in Largo in addition to the stores in Clinton and Waldorf. They employ about 150 people.

"This economy is built on small business," says the younger Nicholas Ferrante.

Noting that two of the family stores were opened in the middle of the recession, he says, "We are content."

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