Confidence, optimism grow in pockets of U.S. as firms rehire

Grovier went back to school and got a food sanitation license but still couldn't find a job. "It was hard," he says. The call from Simonton was a huge relief. He has applications pending at other factories, and he says he's "an overtime addict" in case he's laid off by Simonton when the usual winter lull sets in.

He would prefer to stay here if a permanent job opens up. "There's always hope," he says.

The farm economy, still stable here, insulated Paris from some of the recession's effects, but owners of small businesses say times have been hard.

JoEllen Edmonds opened her gift shop, The Calico Basket, in the last vacant storefront on the square in 1984. Over the past three years or so, she says, many stores that closed stayed empty or were replaced by law and insurance offices, diminishing the amount of traffic downtown.

Business is down this year, Edmonds, 61, says. "We have nothing in here that you can't live without," she says. People aren't redecorating their houses or buying extra gifts. She ordered fewer high-end items for Christmas.

Edmonds says she'll know when the economy is improving: "When they call my husband back to work. He's been laid off since February."

Kim Trine isn't ready to celebrate either. She sells books, religious goods and art and operates a prayer ministry at The Cross Walk, which opened in February. "It's tough to get by on $2 in sales in a day," she says.

Smith, who is a lawyer, says the recession was evident at the courthouse, where the number of small-claims cases over unpaid bills and rent was up a third over the past two years. Plans for new employers, housing projects and stores were "put on the back burner" for the past year or so.

The economic downturn has touched the entire town, says Blair Dosch, 20, who works at Benjamin's Office Connection, an office supply store. "Everyone knows everybody, so if someone's dad loses their job it doesn't just affect their family," she says. "It's not like in a big city where someone loses their job and no one cares. It's a big deal when a family here is suffering."

That sense of community prompted generosity that Dosch and her boss, Benjamin's office manager Jeanette Levellie, say brought people even closer together: A woman opened a soup kitchen, residents donated school supplies to families who can't afford them, a paper drive was organized to replace lost state funds for 4-H clubs.

"If someone knows you're struggling, people help," Levellie, 54, says.

As fall arrives in Paris, people are more confident. The mayor expects a major pharmacy to announce plans soon for a store in town. A housing project is planned. There are plenty of cars at Wal-Mart, even on weekday nights. Despite a cool, wet summer, crops seem to be bountiful.

Debra Swinford, 54, who was laid off by Simonton in January, is back at work and "out of the red and into the black," she says, after falling behind on her mortgage and other bills. Her daughter, who left college when mom could no longer help her financially, is taking classes again.

"It's nice to have some money left over from the last paycheck in my checking account instead of living paycheck to paycheck," Swinford says. "I had faith that Simonton was going to call their people back. I just had faith."

Swinford's eyes fill with tears, though, as she describes the toll of the recession on her life.

"I should be settled by now, comfortable, but I'm not," she says. "You just have to keep getting up, keep going and maybe it will happen."

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