Monroe’s Main Street speaks its mind on Wall Street

MONROE — Howard Jones sat at a window table. On a pretty fall morning, he had his coffee, a newspaper and a view of Main Street.

These days, Main Street is more metaphor than place. It connotes small business, the little guy, the American bedrock of hard work. The other half of the equation is Wall Street, meaning wealthy investors and corporate interests.

As Congress looks to spend billions of dollars to stem an economic free fall, there’s no escape from the Wall Street vs. Main Street debate.

On a real Main Street on Tuesday, at Sky River Bakery in downtown Monroe, I found 73-year-old Jones, a retired Boeing engineer. Like most everyone else in this country, he’s troubled.

“I worry for the country,” said Jones, who lives between Snohomish and Monroe. “I have strong feelings and mixed feelings,” he said when asked about a $700 billion economic rescue plan. House members rejected the plan Monday, sending stocks down more than 777 points before Tuesday’s rebound.

It’s a scary time, even if we see ourselves as more Main Street than Wall Street. That distinction is more blurred than it once was. My dad, a child of the Great Depression, retired in his early 60s with a pension. With a good chunk of my nest egg in the stock market through a 401(k) retirement plan, I dread the arrival of my next investment statement.

Others on Monroe’s Main Street on Tuesday were less nervous.

“They should go ahead and do it,” Ann Stryker said of the bailout plan. Jogging down Main Street, the 40-year-old stopped to share her views on her financial future. “I haven’t changed anything,” said Stryker, who works as a chiropractic assistant. “I have a 401(k). And Social Security, but I’m never going to get that,” she said.

Stryker hasn’t noticed much change in people’s spending habits, in spite of the credit crisis.

That’s not the case down the street, where Candido Valdovinos has seen a big drop in customers. “People are not driving,” said Valdovinos, 32, who runs Candido’s Auto Repair on Main Street. “Business fell 40 percent in four months,” he said.

He has four employees, but one has been laid off. “Me, I’m only working part-time,” Valdovinos said. “It’s tough.”

Another Main Street business owner, Mary Gail Falk, operates The Study Center, a tutoring business. “I worry about my mother. She’s turning 80 and her money is in CDs,” Falk said.

Falk, 52, said she started her business after losing a job with a nonprofit organization several years ago. Asked about an economic bailout, she said, “My honest true feeling? I say let them go under,” she said. “We’re all going to take a hit, but those billions could go a long way toward feeding the poor.”

At the same time, Falk believes a tough economy has an upside. Less consumption is good for the environment, Falk said. “And it brings families and friends together,” she said.

At Main Street Books, a used bookstore in Monroe, owner Amanda Kleinert was at work with her 3-month-old son, Brodie. She wasn’t unhappy to see lawmakers reject the rescue plan Monday.

“I don’t think the bailout would help us at all. In my opinion, it doesn’t have anything to do with us,” said Kleinert, 31, who lives in Gold Bar. She’s involved with the Downtown Revitalization and Enhancement Association of Monroe, a group known as DREAM. Through another grass-roots effort, Destination Alley, she has worked to install security cameras and curb graffiti in Monroe.

“Downtown revitalization will help us directly,” Kleinert said.

At the Sky River Bakery, Jones shared strong opinions as his unfinished coffee grew cold.

“I don’t blame people,” he said. “The banks made credit so easy, and people don’t know what it’s costing them.” With housing and everything else so expensive, he said, “people don’t have money to save.”

He’s upset about it, but Jones said federal action is a must. “We need the bailout,” he said.

Still, at the intersection of Main Street and Wall Street, he sees no concern for the little guy. From Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson on down, Jones said, “those people don’t have the foggiest idea what life is like for us.”

Columnist Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460 or muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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