I returned home to western North Carolina to find similar discussions and concern. In terms of economic conditions, I also found strikingly opposite circumstances.
The furniture industry is the lifeblood of my hometown, Lenoir. In terms of the title "furniture capital of the world," it is second only to High Point, N.C. If the furniture industry dies, so does the town.
As the nation's economy sluggishly moves toward what might or might not be a recession, furniture work in Lenoir has slowed, with some workers being laid off from their jobs. While Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and other economic gurus attempt to stop the bleeding and turn the economy around, the mood in Lenoir among the majority of furniture workers is one of doubt. Some say they've seen this before, and the big furniture corporations can and will pull through a recession, but all agree that at least for now, work is slow.
Contrast this with some of Lenoir's so-called "mom and pop" businesses, which seem to be doing well. A perfect case in point is the dry-cleaning business that my grandfather owns -- one of the oldest in town -- and where I spent many summers earning a little spending money. This business is an original, a throwback from the good ol' days when chewing gum was 5 cents, and Coca-Cola was a dime. The dry cleaner is thriving because it is exactly what it needs to be: A mom-and-pop business that has developed a customer base over the years that harbors intense loyalty, whether through boom or recession.
Lenoir Cleaner's is indeed old-fashioned. It doesn't accept credit cards because it doesn't have a credit card machine. The books are not kept on any computer, and files are actually put in the file cabinet.
The telephone is an old rotary-dial model and certainly doesn't have call waiting.
The old men who used to work alongside my grandfather, who have long since retired, still come by on a daily basis. They come inside and sit around like old men used to do in the country store, straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. And of course, they talk about the things old men talk about: good times, hard times, the weather, and their gardens.
They've been around the dry cleaners as long as it has been in the town, and they are family.
My grandfather conducts business the old-fashioned way as well.