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Some Westport Businesses See Hope After Slowdown

WESTPORT, Conn. – If you walk into Westport Outfitters – a boating and fishing shop in Saugatuck – and ask owner Eric Johnson about business, as one customer recently did, he'll tell you it’s looking up.

However, that's only in comparison to last year, the shop's worst for profitability since the recession hit, Johnson said.

"I haven't run final numbers yet, but I think we'll be up from last year," he said. "We won't be hitting the ball out of the park, but considering the economy, I think we'll be up enough to see growth and hopefully the light at the end of the tunnel."

Although his business isn't taking on water, Johnson said it's "not great" either. And he's not alone. The recession is still hitting Fairfield County businesses hard, and nearly half don't expect to turn a profit this year, according to a report released Tuesday.

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 post a profit in 2011.

That’s 7 percentage points lower than the 60 percent that were profitable in 2010, according to the survey. Those figures are "dismal" when compared with the 84 percent that were profitable in 2007, before the recession, business leaders say.

Paul Timpanelli, president and chief executive officer of the Bridgeport Regional Business Council, said while the results of the survey don't come as a surprise, he is seeing slow signs of economic recovery.

"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."

"I do see things starting to trend the other way. For example, I can name 25 [Fairfield County] 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."

Breaking the trend of struggling Fairfield County businesses is Bobby Q's BBQ and Grill on Westport’s Main Street. Owner Bob LeRose, president of the Westport Downtown Merchants Association, said his business has seen steady growth since the recession hit.

LeRose opened Bobby Q’s seven years ago. He said the last three years have been the most profitable. Not only does he expect to turn a profit this year, he said this year is shaping up as the restaurant’s best ever.

“It’s ironic for me that things have gotten better each year since the start of the recession,” LeRose said. “I can’t say for certain why, but I know we work hard, and after seven years, you learn, do things differently and continue to improve.”

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