Small businesses finding ways to survive

By Gabriel Monte and Liliana Castillo: Freedom New Mexico

Despite having to increase his prices, cut staff and shorten operating hours, Twin Cronnie Drive-In Owner Clint Harden is optimistic about the local economy because of the new mission at Cannon Air Force Base.

While the recession has hit small businesses hard nationally, some Clovis and Portales businesses are managing to soften the blow because of the military base, according to business experts.

A survey by the National Federation of Independent Business reported small business owners have cut their staff, decreased capital expenses and are experiencing less profits.

But in the Clovis and Portales area, the mission is what will protect the small businesses in the coming months, said Sandra Taylor Sawyer, director of the Clovis Community College Small Business Development Center.

“That’s going to bring a number of new residents in and so those folks are going to have needs and anyone interested in starting a business may want to begin to do some research on that,” Sawyer said.

Sav-a-Lot Appliances and Bargain Stop owner Ray Cavett said business kept strong through 2008 until about August.

“I don’t want to say things dried up, but it dropped down about 25 percent,” he said. “We’re doing just better than breaking even.”

Cavett and his son, Mark, cut their salaries to stay afloat, Now they’re keeping their fingers crossed for their busiest season. February and March, tax refund time, usually doubles the company’s business.

Foxy Drive-In Owner Chris Bryant said his business had to make adjustments with the statewide minimum wage increase. But he said the national economy did not have much of an effect on his restaurant.

“And I really don’t think we will,” he said. “I think business is going to continue to do well as long as we take care of it.”

However, other businesses have not been able to avoid the economic crunch that has driven up the cost of goods.

In December, Jim Clark closed the Golden Corral restaurant he operated for eight years because money would not be able to support anticipated expenses.

Clark also owns Dakota’s Steakhouse where he has raised prices and cut expenses to keep his staff and food portions the same.

“Two things that would kill you is if you mess with the food or cut your service,” he said. “I’m going to hold off until things are better.”

And Clark is optimistic that things will get better once the Cannon transition gets into full swing.

“That’s what gives me hope,” said Clark, who moved in with his daughter to lower his salary from his business.

Harden said a recent report on Gross Receipt Taxes reinforces his confidence in the local economy. Gross receipt taxes rose 7.3 percent in 2008, according to a state report.

“I think based on what I’ve seen, as it relates to Cannon, I feel like the worst is over, the bathtub’s drained and we’re starting to see it fill up again and I’m very, very optimistic about the economic outlook in Clovis and Curry County,” Harden said.

Bar G Western and Casual Wear owner Buzz Goodson said his business in Portales went up about 12.5 percent in 2008.

“People see the TV, hear the radio and read the paper and think everything is hurting,” Goodson said. “Out here in New Mexico, I guess Portales and Clovis have lived in a recession for 80 years. We kind of know how to cope with it.”

Goodson, who has been in business for 35 years, said things have been worse and dealing with 2009 is a waiting game for now.

“We don’t know what it will be in 2009. We’ll have to sit back and see,” he said.