August 17, 2010

'Things are not dead,' Feingold says after Main Street business tour

 Sen. Russ Feingold with Chris and Mark Flynn of DP Wigley
Sen. Russ Feingold heard mixed messages from Downtown business owners this morning. Some told him business is good; others that it's "up and down." But he said he heard more optimism from Racine than  in Kenosha.

Actually, he really didn't have to listen to get an accurate picture of how Racine is doing. Most of the Main Street stores he stopped in were empty, or almost so; a clerk or owner behind the counter, but few customers. It was worse in Kenosha, he said, where everyone was worried about the departure of the Walgreens anchor in the area he toured.

In Racine Feingold started at DP Wigley, where Mark and Chris Flynn described how their century-old business has morphed from a feed store into one serving garden and brewing hobbyists.

At the Main Street General Store, Tim Wheary -- who was filling in behind the counter for vacationing owner David Azarian -- gave Feingold an earful about federal regulations that purportedly help small businesses, but in reality define them as having fewer than 99 employees. That's not what's needed, Wheary said; rather he'd like tax and benefit breaks for owner-operated stores with just a handful of employees (if any besides the owners).

 Kim Wachowiak, owner of Jo Jo's Toys, said, "I'm for anyone who will help."

Laura Slotnick, who was behind the counter at Elegant Pauper, got Feinfold to write a short note for the store's owners, and was so pleased by his visit she said, "Maybe I should play the lottery today."

And so it went. Friendly visits with Jack and Pam Viroglio at Northern Lights Gallery,  a stop at Greens & Goods Company where Feingold was told "business is great," at Dover Flag and Map, right, where he looked through special glasses at a 3-D map of Wisconsin, at Inside-Out, Copacetic, the RAM museum store and more, and at Common Scents, where he was told that owner Doug Wick dressed up as Uncle Sam during the Fourth of July Parade. But Wick corrected that, saying rather that he dresses as Yankee Doodle Dandy, and he and Feingold -- unbidden -- offered a duet of the George M. Cohan classic's chorus: "Oh, I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy, born on the Fourth of July..."

Feingold's staff had been well-briefed: Although he walked Main Street from 3rd Street to 5th, and back, he skipped past Eye-OpenerZ, whose owner, Ken Brown is a TEA Party organizer, and Dimples, whose co-owner, Denis Navratil has a blog  that frequently criticises Democrats. (Navratil was on vacation anyway.)

Feingold brushed off the Rasmussen Reports poll's conclusion that he trails Republican challenger (political newcomer and millionaire businessman) Ron Johnson. "It's one poll, from an organization highly identified with Republicans," Feingold said -- while agreeing that he expects a "tough, close race." The three-term Senator said, "I don't know what it's like to have an easy race."

Feingold attributed this year's uncertainty to the fact that "People are having a hard time. The economy is not strong enough." He is quick to point out that he voted against deficit spending during the Bush presidency, against trade agreements that have cost U.S. jobs and against the elimination of Wall Street regulation. "My opponent is for those policies," he said.

As for President Obama, Feingold said "he has done the right thing" on issues like health care; but he disagrees with the president's policies on Afghanistan.

The economy, he said, is the biggest issue. "Everyone is hoping things will pick up more dramatically. We're at the tipping point. Things are not dead. You can't have the worst era since the Depression and snap your fingers to get out of it."

During his walk-through, Feingold bought a package of Busy Bee cookie mix at the General Store ($9.41) and a ladies razor shaped like a hippo for his daughter, Jessica,  at Common Scents ($20). "I've stimulated the economy a little bit," he said, adding with a wink, "This is going to be an expensive week."

 Tim Wheary and Feingold at the Main Street General Store

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