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Closed for Good

Have you been on Wilson Boulevard near Clarendon recently? Driving near Whole Foods, we passed buildings that spoke of job loss and lives changed. First was Orpheus Records’ sign that it was going out of business. Then, NTB, National Tire and Battery, where we’d bought tires for years, stood vacant and hauntingly abandoned.

The sign was down; the parking lot blocked; the office and work bays, empty.

My God. Has it come to Arlington, too?

Homes are still selling, though at lower prices after sitting longer on the market. But established businesses seemed to be ok. Obviously that wasn’t the case at Orpheus and NTB.

I called another NTB store in Fairfax.

“What happened to NTB in Arlington?”

“They’re closed.”

“For good?”

“Yes.”

“What about the workers? Did they get other jobs?”

He said they had. But, how many businesses do you know of that fold a store and keep all the workers in company jobs?

We saw it years ago when Woodies closed at Seven Corners. J.C. Penney’s closed in Ballston. Sears closed in Clarendon. What of the workers? Their jobs? Their pensions? Conversations with former longtime employees indicated that benefits were lost.

We don’t have an abundance of blue collar jobs in Arlington, but NTB was one that had some. Did they pay decent wages for mechanics and sales personnel? I don’t know the answer to that; but the workers did have jobs, a way to earn a living.

I once worked at a place that combined workforces. The afternoon paper, where I was a legislative correspondent, was to be closed and jobs were being consolidated with the morning paper. The only problem, I found, was that the owners felt they already had enough legislative reporters.

I had no idea it was coming. While the other staff gathered for news of the merger, I was taken aside and presented with a severance check. “Could I stay on while I’m looking?” No. One day I’m a reporter, the next I’m on the street. That was 1974 and there were only a few places in Springfield, Illinois that had reporting jobs, let alone vacant ones. Luckily for me, the TV station had an opening and they took a chance and hired me.

Today, we live in much more uncertain times: the value of homes is dropping, jobs are being lost; debt has mounted.

Last October AOL near Dulles gave pink slips to 750 of their shrinking number of employees.

And only three days ago the Associated Press wrote: “A severe slowdown in economic growth that has raised concerns about a possible recession has begun to affect the labor market. … ‘In this environment, simply cutting back on hiring will not be enough for companies to maintain earnings as demand slows. Jobs will have to be cut too,’ said Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics.”

Most local economies, because property tax revenues are plummeting as assessments drop, suddenly have less money for schools and roads and social services. If things really get bad, would it make sense to have a government program to rebuild ‘infrastructure,’ such as bridges that are collapsing, aged water/sewer systems that have crumbled in many areas, and other neglected public property? Only the federal government could step into that breech … should it come to that.

The sight of a shop closing sign and a boarded-up store on Wilson Boulevard may not mean much in the grand scheme of things. But that shop and that store had workers who earned money and had mortgages or rent to pay, food to buy. Where are they now and were they able to find work?

And if this really gets bad… here and around the nation … are we willing to make sure that everyone who wants a job has one? “Closed” can be a frightening word to a worker, especially if there’s no sight of another that says “open.”

Nick Penning is an Arlington (Va.) freelance writer. His column, “Penning Thoughts,” appears in alternating editions of The Arlington Connection.

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