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Easton Businesses See Mixed Economic Recovery

EASTON, Conn. — When you walk into the Olde Blue Bird Inn, it’s common to see long lines of customers waiting for its famous breakfast. But drop by the restaurant during the week, and it’s a different story. “During the week, there is not too many customers here; business is a lot slower than what it used to be,” said Blue Bird owner Ewa Pogorzelski.

That decline, Pogorzelski said, is tied directly to the economy. “On the weekends, business is still good, it’s great. But when you see a big drop in the stock market, this place is just dead."

As it turns out, Pogorzelski is not alone. According to a recent survey by the Connecticut Business & Industry Association and the Stamford Chamber of Commerce, many area business are struggling to stay afloat during the recession. In fact, the economy is so bad, half don’t expect to make a profit this year. “I took the business over in January and I can’t say that we are losing money,” Pogorzelski said. “It has relatively stayed the same, but business is a lot slower than what it was just a few months ago.”

The Olde Blue Bird Inn serves only breakfast and lunch. When the economy drops, people cut back by eating breakfast at home and even packing lunch for work. “I think during the week, people just don’t want to spend the money,” Pogorzelski said.

As the region’s economy slowed, just slightly more than 50 percent of county businesses are counting on being profitable, according to the survey. But one Easton business isn’t seeing any change: the Old Blue Bird Garage, an automotive repair and maintenance shop next to Pogorzelski’s restaurant on Black Rock Turnpike.

“Honestly, I haven’t seen any change. Business has been consistently steady,” said Chris Wieser, whose family has owned the garage since 1946. “I think the recession and how it hits a business depends on the service." One reason Wieser thinks his business is booming is because he provides an essential service. “Cars are a necessity around here; transportation is a necessity. We don’t have public transportation around here, everyone has to get to work. They need their cars,” he said.

The 2011 Fairfield County Business Survey, published by the Connecticut Business & Industry Association and the Stamford Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with BlumShapiro and TD Bank, found that just 53 percent of those surveyed expected to turn a profit in 2011. That is 7 percentage points lower than in 2010, according to the survey. Those figures are “dismal” when compared with the 84 percent of the region’s businesses that were profitable in 2007, before the recession hit, business leaders say.

“We are in a recession, and you can see from the survey charts that, reflecting national trends, profitability has been negatively impacted,” said Joseph McGee, vice president of the Fairfield County Business Council in Stamford. “Has this recession damaged profitability? Absolutely,” said McGee. “Has it impacted jobs? Of course. But on the other hand, we’re seeing growth, too, as businesses are moving into the area and there has been job growth in individual companies, even though we are way below jobs compared to five years ago.”

Paul S. Timpanelli, president and chief executive officer of the Bridgeport Regional Business Council, agreed that although recovery from the recession is slow, he is also seeing positive signs.

These survey results "don’t come as any surprise, we have been mired in a very severe recession and nearly reached bottom when we were close to a depression in 2008,” said Timpanelli. “It’s going to take a long time to recover.”

But, he said, “I do see things starting to trend the other way. For example, I can name 25 businesses that have hired more people within the past year. What’s important as we move forward is that businesses improve their product, go global and keep getting leaner.”

Although many county firms are on track for growth, a sizeable minority continues to struggle, according to the survey. A quarter of businesses that responded to the biennial survey were in the red this year, while 23 percent expected economic conditions to worsen in 2012.

“We were hopeful that 2011 was going to be the year of growth,” said Jack Condlin, president and CEO of the Stamford Chamber of Commerce. “The first half was encouraging, but the third quarter took the wind out of our sails.”

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