CAROL A. CLARK Monitor County Editor
Gloom and doom talk is all over town in the shadow of potential budget cuts at Los Alamos National Laboratory and last week's revelation that classified information was e-mailed through non-secure computers.
Local business owners took time Wednesday to share their perceptions about the laboratory and those of their customers.
Metzger's has been a community fixture for decades. The owner recently spent some $300,000 in remodeling the main hardware store on 15th Street.
"We've made a big investment in the future of our business in this community," longtime General Manager Dennis George said. "We aren't growing as quickly as we thought we would after a major remodel, but in talking with other businesses we are doing well."
George spoke of his customers who work or worked at LANL.
"We hear people's fears; they say, 'I've just been laid off' or 'I've quit,'" he said. "I've heard people say, 'I didn't have long to go to retirement so I retired because I just couldn't take the uncertainty anymore.'"
George expressed concern over the $400,000 budget cut pending in Congress. He said he worries about its affect on LANL employees, whether they'll lose their jobs and on the real estate market.
"I know a number of people trying to sell their homes," George said. "Homes used to sell in eight to 10 days and these homes have been on the market eight to 10 months."
People are unsure about the future and unwilling to go shopping, he said. "They're not willing to spend spare income because they aren't sure how long they will be working."
George said Metzger's appreciates the people in this community and only hopes the best for them and their work situation. "We're concerned for their welfare and we know we couldn't be in business without them."
George shared the perception he has about who's really pulling the strings at LANL.
"I'm not sure the decisions about Los Alamos are made in Los Alamos," he said. "Maybe if we had an opportunity to speak with the people who do make the decisions, then we'd have a better idea as to the future. They have to have some kind of a plan and it would be nice if they'd let us know what that plan is."
Peggy Durbin retired from LANL a year ago. She went straight into working at Otowi Station Bookstore, which she and her partner purchased in 2005.
"I retired at the end of May, right before they flipped the switch," Durbin said, alluding to June 1, 2006, when Los Alamos National Security (LANS) took over management responsibilities of LANL.
"The time seemed right so I retired and devote myself full time to the bookstore," Durbin said. "While I loved my work and loved my colleagues, with the uncertainty and low morale it wasn't fun anymore. And from what I'm hearing from folks, it's still not a whole lot of fun. Of all the labbies that come in (the bookstore) since then, only one says she likes working there. Most are demoralized, angry, fearful and disgusted."
Durbin worked at LANL for 22 years. She was a writer/editor on an assignment project to ARIES. Her job was to publish the results of research.
"There's no money now (for publishing) so how can anyone know all the great work they are doing at the lab?" she said.
She shared her vision of LANL in a perfect world.
"The lab should completely rethink its mission to focus on renewable, affordable energy and they should focus on AIDS research and the data base - that's of worldwide importance," she said. "They should develop large-scale waste management projects, and the Genome Project - go back to the mission of science serving society."
Durbin continued, "This town should be a hot bed of science and technology. There should be a steady stream of people coming up the hill to do business. Retail follows progress; retail doesn't create progress."
Durbin said she has seen a "significant drop in all non-taxable sales" at her bookstore over the same time last year.
Cook'n In Style owner Liz Thomson said, "We don't know if the emotions of the community are affecting our business. We have no way of knowing because we've only been in this new location (15th Street and Central Avenue) for eight months. "
Cook'n In Style is doing well, Thomson said, adding that it's in a summer slump, which she said happens every year.
Thomson hasn't noticed strong concern expressed by her customers but rather the occasional comment such as, "Gee, I hope we're still here next year."
"I think some of the upper echelon are more worried than the troops because of the scrutiny on LANS," she said.
Thomson pointed to two main areas of concern expressed by her customers. "'The lab's errors keep being made' is a concern expressed by the upper echelon. Then there's the general concern of the budget cuts. This town has gone through these cycles again and again and there's always a certain element who says, 'We'll ride it out.' Domenici (Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M.), always comes through so people are hoping he'll pull it out of the fire this time."