Sunday, June 23, 2024

Why are small businesses feeling apprehensive? – Marketplace

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Small-business owners in this economy are feeling a little apprehensive, according to the National Federation of Independent Business.

Its May economic trends survey, which came out Tuesday, finds that small business optimism was up just a bit over the previous month, though still well below the survey’s historic average. And its uncertainty index has spiked to the highest level since November 2020.

Marketplace called business owners ask what’s making them so uneasy. 

Stitch & Rivet, based in northern Virginia, sells handmade leather tote bags and wallets — the kind of treat-yourself purchases people are thinking twice about these days. 

“Things are going for me the way they’re going for a lot of people, which is ‘meh,’” said owner Katie Stack. She isn’t sure when sales will pick up. 

At this point in a more typical year, she’d be reserving her spot at big holiday markets, which can run her business anywhere from $12,000 to $20,000. 

“You have to pay that money in the summer. I’ve decided I’m just not risking that kind of money this year,” she said.

In southern Utah, historic Ruby’s Inn is feeling the uncertainty too. General manager Lance Syrett said it sees some busy stretches. Until, he said, “every time there’s a news story that says maybe we’re headed for inflation, well, people start hanging on to that money.”

Syrett is planning for a soft summer, with fewer families springing for a trip to Bryce Canyon National Park. That, plus high interest rates, means holding off expanding the inn. 

“We’re definitely concerned. You know, it’s not like we’re going out and borrowing money to build a new restaurant here at the resort or more hotel rooms,” he said.

This wait-and-see approach is common in the small-business world right now, said the NFIB’s chief economist, Bill Dunkelberg. “Uncertainty is the enemy of progress and spending,” he said.

Another thing clouding business owners’ outlook? 

“The presidential election, I feel, will have a bigger impact on my business,” said Alejandro Flores-Muñoz, who runs Combi Taco, a food truck and catering company in Denver. 

He worries about wholesale inflation, losing clients to menu price increases and his status under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. “Without that work authorization, my future in this country is on a limbo,” he said.

Come November, Flores-Muñoz added, the path forward for his business will be clearer.

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