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Greenwich Businesses Remain Hopeful in Economy

GREENWICH, Conn. – The recession is still hitting Fairfield County businesses hard, and nearly half don’t expect to be profitable this year, according to a survey released Tuesday. Despite these numbers, new small businesses in Greenwich remain hopeful they will find success.

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 turn a profit in 2011. That is 7 percentage points lower than in 2010. 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.

Noah Goldberg’s wine boutique, The Study in Banksville, is nearly a year old. The co-owner said that when his store opened, the local IGA grocery closed, leaving the community with fewer shopping options. As the year went on, the wine shop experienced its ebbs and flows with customers. But as a new business, this was expected.

“As a small shop in a remote town, we know it’s all about meeting people and developing relationships,” said Goldberg. “But yeah, we need to be doing better like everybody else.”

It’s not all bad news, however, Goldberg says he is optimistic about The Study’s success. After all, if it hadn't been for a bad economy, he and his wife would never have been able to purchase the store.

The Greenwich Avenue candy store, Sweet Teez, also opened less than a year ago after its first location in Larchmont proved successful, according to co-owner Renata Donaghy. She said the business is continuing to expand rapidly and primarily meets people's need for candy for holidays, weddings, parties and birthdays. “I find that in an economy like this, people don’t stop buying candy. It’s a happy place in such an unhappy time, and people know they can come in here and still enjoy themselves,” said Donaghy.

Both Goldberg and Donaghy said that the post-holiday time as well as July and August were slow. But Goldberg said this downtime gave him the opportunity to focus on his trifecta months of October, November and December — the most crucial time for any business.

Business group leaders from one end of the county to the other say they are not surprised with the survey’s bleak results, but also say they see positive signs that an economic recovery is on the way – though slowly.

“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 it is slow, he is also seeing signs of economic recovery.

“These (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 (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.”

Though many county firms are on track for growth, a sizeable minority continues to struggle, according to the survey. 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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