CONWAY — There is a new attitude cautiously showing its pretty face in Conway these days, some businesspeople say.
More and more, theyre hearing their fellow businessmen and women say that maybe, just maybe, the economic downturn has turned and activity is beginning to head upward.
No ones willing to say yet that the uptick in business is a trend, but there is a restrained relief that the economy seems to be off the slide.
I think they are cautiously optimistic that things are getting better, said Joe Woodle of Tradd Commercial Real Estate.
The city also is seeing a small improvement in its hospitality tax collections, finance director Michael Hardee said, and the Conway Chamber of Commerce has cut ribbons for six new businesses this year.
I think thats significant, said Kelli James, the chambers executive vice president. Its not great, but at the same time, its not dismal.
Woodle said the commercial real estate market is being driven at least partly by what he calls forced entrepreneurs. Those are people who lost jobs to the poor economy and now are starting their own businesses.
Woodle said bank financing is still very hard for most to get, so the new entrepreneurs are seeking financial help through the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Were seeing people get very creative, which is a good thing, he said.
Its hard to quantify the uptick in commercial real estate, Woodle said, but Nancy Lee of Century 21 McAlpine Associates said coastal Carolina realtors have seen a 2 percent increase in business over the last year.
She said there is a higher number of sales, but added that prices are still low.
Instead of seeing things drop, Lee said, its turned the corner and is heading in the opposite direction.
She said residential real estate prices fell at least 25 percent in the downturn and that it could take years for them to return to the pre-recession level. But she said if the right things happen a sharp increase in home prices east of the Intracoastal Waterway, for instance the pace of rising home prices in Conway could accelerate.
But its not only Conway-based businesses that see the real estate potential there.
Prudential Myrtle Beach Real Estate has recently opened an office there.
Broker in charge Marvin Heyd said the firms inland office will be able to service a growing number of baby boomers who want to be in Horry County, but away from the hustle of the beach areas. They would prefer the quiet of Conway.
We see the market getting better, Heyd said. Conway has always been that sleepy market.
While real estate seems to be creeping upward, other Conway businesses are recording double-digit increases this year versus last.
Were actually up by 13 percent this year, said Scott Creech of Duplicates Inc.
Part of that boost, perhaps 6 percent, is due to political candidates having posters, bumper stickers and other things printed, Creech said, but 6 percent to 7 percent is due to businesses ordering more printed material.
Since his customers are primarily other businesses, Creech believes his increase is meaningful to whats happening generally with business in Conway. It means that businesses are doing better or at least are investing money in marketing. He said orders from real estate businesses are up slightly, but more significant boosts have come from entertainment-oriented companies and the medical industry.
Hes planning an expansion next year and expects to see another double-digit sales increase.
Things are even better at The Haberdashery, a clothing store in the Blackwater Market on Laurel Street, where clothing consultant Russell Fowler said sales are 20 percent higher this year.
This year has been better than the last couple of years, Fowler said.
Fowler attributes the stores current good fortune to several things. He said the marketing of downtown Conway has brought new people downtown for things such as Alive After Five, a once-a-month promotion. But more important in drawing people are restaurants, particularly the Bistro, and the Theater of the Republic.
The theater draws a lot of people from the Pawleys Island, Murrells Inlet, Litchfield area, he said.
Further, increased store marketing to students at Coastal Carolina University has added more new customers.
Fowler said sales at the store dropped 60 percent during the recession.
This isnt the first time weve had a bad situation, Fowler said in a sentiment also mentioned by others. Its the first time weve had a really bad situation.
While many businesses across the board are reporting better sales, not all are.
Were holding fairly steady, said Sallie Walbourne of Pet Pizazz, but I dont things are progressing right now.
Some of their customers have lost their jobs and no longer brings their pets in, she said, while others are stretching out the time between groomings.
Walbourne and others said they believe the future of the economy hinges on the outcome of the November elections.
The right outcome, they said, could ease the jitters many businesspeople feel about the future.
Theres some big money sitting on the sidelines waiting to see whats going to happen on the national level, Woodle said.
Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765.