BETHEL -- The effect of disastrously weak salmon runs in the Yukon-Kuskokwim River Delta and Norton Sound areas is stretching beyond commercial fishermen.
Business are also feeling the crunch, from a slow-down of freight on the docks to merchants struggling to collect from customers with piling debts, they told Gov. Tony Knowles recently.
Knowles met with area residents last month, just before he declared a disaster in the Yukon-Kuskokwim River Delta and Norton Sound areas. Knowles' office announced last week that the U.S. Department of Commerce has approved the disaster declaration, but that no details have yet been worked out.
Knowles, who was in Bethel on other business recently, met with business owners over coffee to discuss what effects the fishing disaster has had on the local economy.
``We talked to the governor about the bigger picture of this disaster,'' said Diane Carpenter, owner of Pacifica Guest House and organizer of the meeting. ``We discussed the domino effect of this disaster on every aspect of the economy.''
Carpenter, who has warned of the impending economic down-swing for months, said everyone is being affected. There is less freight moving, and air transport and lodging services are down. Local stores are suffering because consumers can't pay current bills, she said.
Irv Krieder, a Bethel merchant and landlord, said businesses like his -- he sells nonessential goods -- especially feel the pinch.
``For the past three years, it has been getting worse every year,'' Krieder said. ``This is the worst year by far. If it were not for my rental business, the store would be losing. Right now we are just trying to buy time for the store.''
Knowles spent an hour with business owners like Krieder and Carpenter, hearing about the negative turn the economy has taken as a whole.
After the initial discussions, the group set to work to come up with ideas to help out area merchants.
The major request was for the governor to expand his disaster declaration to include a request for low-interest disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Carpenter said the loans, which are repaid at 4 percent interest, provide businesses with working capital to help cover liabilities, repairs, maintenance costs and operating cash during times of disaster.
``When you have had four or five years of disaster, a bank is not going to give you a loan,'' Carpenter said.
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