Washington County business leaders: Economy took baby steps in 2012
Peggy Bushey President of Cavetown Planing Mill and CAVCO Homes at her Cavetown office. (By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer / January 5, 2013)
“We’re seeing little incremental improvements,” said Peggy Bushey, president of Cavetown Planing Mill Co. and Cavco Homes. “It’s a little better than 2011, a little bit better than 2010. ... But there’s still some scary things out there.”
A few miles away, on the south side of Hagerstown, Weiss Bros. is having an up year — its second in a row — and President Richard Weiss is optimistic, but guardedly so.
“Everything I’ve seen (suggests that) next year, the economy should be better, unemployment should go down, housing could come back. ... We could have a boom next year, but I wouldn’t want to bet on it. I think everybody in business is going to tell you the same — we’re cautiously optimistic.”
And yet for some local business owners, there was little, if anything, in 2012 to raise their hopes for 2013.
“It’s pretty stagnant, I think,” said John Walla, who opened his second Black Eyed Susan restaurant in Hagerstown this past spring, but since has closed one of them.
The economy has gone “from one crisis to the next,” Walla said. “Consumers don’t know what to do. Just hold onto their money and not go out to eat or do other things as much as they used to.”
Early indicators good
Coming off at least four years of hard recession, early 2012 had the look of the dawn of new economic hope.
By the numbers:
• The county’s unemployment rate improved. The rate, which jumped as high as 12.4 percent in February 2010, fell back into single digits in late 2011 and stayed there every month of 2012. It had sunk to 8.1 percent by November, the latest monthly rate reported.
• Home prices rose. The prices, which crested at a median of $231,750 in 2006 and bottomed at $138,000 in 2011, slowly began increasing in late 2011. In 2012, the median halted its monthly climb over the year-ago price only once from January through August.
• People began spending more. After years of recessionary decline, spending levels began a steady rise in late 2011 over the year-ago mark. And from January through March 2012, the solid gains continued.
In April, Walla opened his second restaurant, calling it Black Eyed Susan North. His first, which he now called Black Eyed Susan South, opened in early 2008 in what had been a small sub shop at 17102 Virginia Ave. that Walla bought in 2003.
Black Eyed Susan’s Virginia Avenue location had done so well since 2008 that its success became a problem: It was attracting more diners than Walla could seat on weekends and it didn’t have enough parking, he said.
So Walla added the second restaurant, leasing space in the North Pointe shopping center on Hagerstown’s northern edge.
By May, when the newspaper interviewed Weiss, president of the food-service products supply company, and Bushey, president of the lumber, door, window and building supply company, the economy still was “moving in the right direction,” as Bushey said then.
“I would think we’re past the bottom and on the way up,” Weiss said in May. “But it’s not the typical recovery from a recession, and it may take years until we’re back up to where we were.”
In July, when the newspaper first talked to Walla and to Mortaza “Mort” Behpouri, the economy seemed to be creating fresh opportunity.