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Weston Stores Thrive Despite Recession

WESTON, Conn. — Although a recent survey of Fairfield County business owners found that many are experiencing tough economic times in this economy, many Weston businesses such as Peter’s Spirit Shop are finding their profits are finally returning to normal.

“In the first three months of ’09, business was definitely soft. We had a huge drop a few years ago, but now, business is definitely good,” said Larry Vavrek, owner of the liquor store in the Weston Shopping Center.

Vavrek, who has worked at the liquor store since 1974, took over as owner in 1993 and said he noticed business began to slow three years ago. “People were no longer buying the $50 bottle of wines. They were buying wines cheaper, and I think people were a little more price conscious.”

Vavrek said he believes the downsizing of financial companies and the recession have had a lot to do with his drop in business. “I think a lot of that has to do with fear. I mean, a lot of people around here work in the financial districts, so I think a lot of people didn’t really know what happened or what to do.”

A recent survey of Fairfield County business owners conducted by the Connecticut Business & Industry Association and the Stamford Chamber of Commerce shows that many of area business are trying to stay afloat during the recession.

As the region’s economy slowed amid concerns about the national economy, transportation infrastructure and operating costs, just slightly more than 50 percent of county businesses are counting on being profitable, according to the survey. But it seems, at least for now, Weston businesses are thriving.

“The recession hit everybody and the economy was bad for everybody, but business right now is good, thank God,” said Jim Magee, proprietor of Peter’s Market. Although Magee said business slowed in recent months, “right now my business is growing, and I think a lot of that has to do with the community and the economy itself.”

Peter’s Market is located in the Weston Shopping Center on Weston Road, the same shopping spot as Peter’s Spirit Shop. “We have a nice little community of units here, were are a good cohesive unit and I think that draws people in,” Magee said. The shopping center is a staple in the Weston community.

When the economy is unsteady and gas prices are on the rise, Magee said, many residents flock to the center because they don’t want to drive to Westport to go to the larger grocery chains. “Weston is small, and I know my customers go to other places. We are that stop on the way home from work or for the little things. We have a nice mix of products that are selling really well now.”

The 2011 Fairfield County Business Survey, released Tuesday 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 is slow, he is also seeing positive signs.

The 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.”

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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