By Jessie Burchette
Business is slow on Main Street.
Eighty-three-year-old Paul Bernhardt is feeling the tough times, along with his customers.
Thursday afternoon Bernhardt shared his concerns about the economy and the soaring price of fuel with 12th District U.S. Rep. Mel Watt of Charlotte.
“Business is so-so,” Bernhardt told Watt. He said sales of kerosene heaters dropped during the winter. “People can’t afford to buy kerosene,” said Bernhardt.
“How much is kerosene?” Watt asked, and expressed surprise at the nearly $4-a-gallon price.
Bernhardt went on to cite costs that are rising almost daily due to the cost of fuel. Last spring he sold 50-pound bags of 10-10-10 fertilizer for $5.95. Now it’s $10.99 and headed upward.
Watt acknowledged that the effort to switch to alternative fuels is causing the price of food to rise sharply. Watt said the switch is going to be difficult and won’t happen overnight.
Bernhardt said he already has customers wanting fans. They don’t think they can afford to run their air conditioners this summer.
Watt talked briefly about the 2008 Stimulus Package passed by Congress, which will provide tax rebates.
Watt expressed the hope that the rebate checks will make their way to small businesses.
Bernhardt said he will likely use his rebate to pay off a charge card.
Melba Melton, an employee at Bernhardt’s store, asked Watt about other provisions of the stimulus package.
Watt briefly outlined provisions designed to stimulate investment in equipment and structures.
He also cited the changes in the Federal Housing Administration that increase the maximum amount of loans for homes.
While talking with staff and customers, Watt toured the store, looking at all the merchandise.
“Have you got the roller that goes in a toilet paper holder?” Watt asked.
“Right back here,” said Bernhardt, quickly producing the needed item.
Watt paid $1.99 plus tax.
And he accepted Bernhardt’s invitation to come back and spend a day working in his store.
By Jessie Burchette