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By Brenda Locklear

Editor’s note: The  Sumter County Times is highlighting a series of stories showing how local businesses are dealing with current economic conditions.

Stories may share what obstacles businesses are facing or what unique measures they are taking to survive.

Our intention is not to include all businesses but to provide a random sampling.

“The economy is affecting us,” said Juan Martinez, co-owner of Economizer IGA in Lake Panasoffkee.

“We’re all facing the same problems. The money is not circulating the way it used to.”

He and his cousin Ivan Rodriguez purchased the business together a couple of years ago.

To combat the sluggish economy issues, he said they’re striving to offer more economical goods to their customers.

“We’re getting different brands so people can buy more – we’re accepting more coupons.

“We have meat sales every month,” he said.

For example, they’ve offered New York strips for $4.99 a pound and Boston Butts for 99 cents a pound.

In an effort to keep all their employees, they’ve cut back on hours, rather than lay anyone off.

Both their parents owned grocery stores in New Jersey and the families have been in the business for about two decades now.

In a normal or healthy economy, Martinez said “The only difference is that the high season here is in the winter and the high season up north is in the summer,” of their stores up north versus their local store. They ended up in Sumter County because they were looking for a change, something more laid back.

Among the larger stores Winn Dixie, Walmart and Sav-A-Lot media spokespeople were contacted, but hadn’t responded by press time.

There are also some smaller grocers in Sumter County.

In Wildwood, Best Meats had a steady flow of customers last Saturday — people asking for special cuts of meat, people shopping from the canned goods section.

As for the economy’s effects on them, “It really hasn’t hurt us all that much,” said owner Joe Bonaccorso. The proof seemed to be in his store — between the customers and more than half dozen employees busy cutting, wrapping and stocking meats.

“I think people are shopping where they can get their best buys,” he said.

He and his wife Charlie have owned the business for about 10 years now and Bonaccorso has been a butcher throughout his career. They’ve been able to keep all their employees through the crunch and while they remain basically unaffected, he said they do offer various specials.

On the opposite end of the county, in Webster, it’s much the same for Jackie’s Market.

The downturn in the economy seems to have had little effect on them.

“We’ve been pretty fortunate,” said owner Tommy Thomas.

Thomas has been a butcher for about three decades now and has a following of customers. He said he also believes a key business success is “Taking care of people and treating them fair.”