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Wharton: Sequester causing fear near Hill Air Force Base

Published April 4, 2013 3:15 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Layton • The small strip malls, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, pay day loan storefronts and coffee stores such as those on Hill Field Road can be seen near most big military bases.

Businesses such as Nancy Bukowski's House of Brews cater to the civilian workers and military families from Hill Air Force Base that make up much of their clientele.

So when Congress let a budget sequester go into effect that threatens furloughs and pay cuts to civilian workers, those aren't the only folks affected. Small business owners start to worry.

"All my customers being affected by it are very concerned," said Bukowski recently as she made a sandwich behind signs promoting hers as an independent local business. "My concern is that people are not going to spend in the community and we will lose money. They will cut back on luxury items, and I consider coffee a luxury."

Lacie Stevens, who owns The Blade Stop that specializes in high-end knives with her husband Jason, worries that her products fit in the category of "want" instead of "need" and will not be in as high of demand if the furlough goes into effect.

"I think it is stupid," she said. "It affects people who work for the government and all the businesses around it. They won't have money to spend."

Sonnett Wilcox of Smokeys, a store that sells beer and cigarettes, has been asked by a couple of government workers if she is hiring part-time help. She said the only possible way the sequester could help business is if smokers decide to roll their own instead of buying brand names.

"It's got us all nervous," she explained. "If they are not spending money, we're not making money. Small business gets worse as the economy in general suffers."

At the Morris Edge Barber Shop that advertises military haircuts, several camo-clad soldiers waited in line on a Friday. Derek Morris said base civilians are beginning to feel the effects of the cutbacks. His business hasn't suffered yet.

"Most all of the civilians who come here are going to see a huge cut in hours," he said. "People go further between haircuts. A barber shop is something people need. There is more fear and worry about what's going to happen."

Susie Garso of Heebeegeebeez, a comic book and magic store, said only one customer mentioned the layoffs. He told her that he might have to narrow his selection a bit, but there were certain titles he would not give up.

"We're not too nervous," she said. "We have a built in clientele with the base. My heart goes out to families. They stuck with us during the recession. Magic and comics seem more popular than ever."

Richard Cross of Crossaction Computer Specialists has not noticed any change in his business. He said everybody uses computers.

At Ligori's Pizza and Pasta, one of the closest businesses next to Hill's South Gate, things looked busy on a Friday at noon. Teresa McKenney, whose father is getting furloughed, is hearing stories about workers who will be required to work five days while being paid for only four. She said the night shift has gotten slower the past few years, but she attributes that to a down economy.

Billy Fenimore of the Wild About Birds Nature Center, said some of his friends expect to be furloughed. They are coming in to pick up bags of seed and trying to stay as optimistic as possible. He said that during the recession in 2007 and 2008, people tended to stay at home more, spending time with families in their yards. Many continued feeding birds.

A checker at the Hill Field Commissary expressed concern. He said a letter went out to commissaries through the world saying that they would likely close on Wednesdays unless the sequester is changed or restored.

For now, most businesses are simply waiting to see what happens. Civilians haven't been furloughed at Hill Field yet but the word on the street is that unless Congress does something quickly, they will begin sometime in April.

And that's a prospect that has many business owners nervous.

wharton@sltrib.com

Twitter @tribtomwharton