Obama’s No. 1 priority: fix the economy

It’s the beginning of a new year, as well as a new era in American politics. There is excitement and anticipation (and possibly worry) over the inauguration of Barack Obama today. The president-elect will be inheriting plenty of problems today, the major issue being the crippled American economy.

Whenever you pick up a newspaper (and, judging by the large job cuts across the industry, the number of people who pick up a newspaper is dwindling), it seems like you’re always reading about new store or restaurant closings, and it can be frustrating.

Just the other day in the Blade, there was an article about five restaurants in the metro area that shuttered in the last few weeks. One of these restaurants, Ruby Tuesday, seemed to have booming business when I went there the day before they closed, but it appears that even close-to-full capacity restaurants cannot recoup the rising costs of food and wages.

Every time I drive down the road, it seems I can spot a new vacancy. You know the economy is bad when places such as Wendy’s, which, at least to me, seemed to be a permanent part of neighborhoods and the American palette, cannot stay open. It’s at the point where you have to call the restaurant, or check the chain’s website to ensure the location is open.

I’ve noticed, whenever you may try to order a pizza from a restaurant these days, you have to wonder if the places you typically order from are actually going to be open. What’s to guarantee when you call the restaurant, the phone will still be on the hook?

The city of Bowing Green lost at least one pizza place this school year (Cottage Inn), and what’s to say that other restaurants won’t follow suit soon? Whether discussing pizza parlors or any other businesses, the lack of competition and options only hurts consumers.

This Christmas, I did not buy gift cards to local restaurants or medium-sized stores in large amounts, if at all. I had no way of knowing if those locations would make it beyond the years-end.

Or, even if the chains do not fold completely, what if you received gift certificates for places that leave a market (an example is Italian restaurant Fazoli’s, who closed their Toledo locations recently)? It’s difficult to develop a loyalty to a brand, if you have no idea if the brand will stay alive.

A large-scale example of the soon-to-be lack of competition in the business world is the closing of Circuit City. The second-largest electronics retailer in the country announced Friday it will close all of its US stores, putting 34,000 people out of work. The chain was in trouble for months before the overall economic meltdown, so this closure doesn’t exactly come as a surprise.

However, what’s to say that competitors such as Best Buy, Target, or Wal-Mart won’t use this as an opportunity to raise their prices since customers looking for bargains have lost a place to go in order to save some money?

Additionally, what’s stopping these competitors from laying off additional employees, since customer service may not be as high of a priority? They know that you’ll wait in line, so why bother effectively filling employee positions? It’s never good when these places close, because everyone suffers.

If you’re not one to mourn the loss of a big box store that sells (arguably) superfluous electronics, it’s still a sad time in the economy for local and smaller-scale attractions. The American Civil War Museum of Ohio, located on Court Street in Bowling Green, will close on Jan. 22.

It’s a sad loss for the Bowling Green community, because it’s a unique, locally-run attraction that will be more difficult to recreate once gone. You can build another big box store if the economy improves, but local stores and places such as the museum (although the artifacts will be placed in storage) cannot be as easily replicated, and it will be difficult for smaller businesses to survive in this economy.

Even if President Obama is able to create policies that will stimulate the economy (and hopefully, he will), that will not bring back these places that closed. While change is a natural part of life, and these closures are simply a means of social Darwinism in action within the business world, that doesn’t mean we can’t be upset.

I’m sure that we’ll all move on with our lives without these places that are closing, but it’s still a little depressing to see. Places we enjoyed are now simply a memory for us to pass along to future generations like our parents do to us.