angie.thompson@gaflnews.com



TIFTON -- The terrorist attacks Sept. 11 produced a ripple effect in the local economy as businesses initially saw drops in consumer confidence and spending. But businesses that are offering incentives to bring back customers now report an upward shift in sales.

Pat Welker, owner/manager of Unlimited Travel, said her business suffered immediately after the attacks with the shutdown of commercial airlines.

"From the onset, we had to do refunds and reaccommodate people," Welker said. "No one traveled that first two weeks.

"There is just too much uncertainty, and people are more cautious about letting go of their money."

Welker said people still have a "wait-and-see" attitude, and she continues to take cancellations from customers who had December vacations booked.

"My business is down 85 to 90 percent," Welker said. She was recently forced to lay off an employee but hopes business will pick up again and she can rehire.

Many of Welker's corporate customers are continuing to book flights, but it is the downturn in leisure flights that has hurt the most.

Extra incentives offered now coincide with the usual "off-season," reduced, travel prices.

Welker has noticed more people buying travel insurance, which reimburses customers if they have to cancel plans because of a medical emergency.

"They are asking about cancellation policies," Welker said.

Leisure travel companies are finding ways to encourage consumers to take vacations.

"There are some really good deals right now, and it is probably the safest time to travel," Welker said. "There are some fantastic deals on cruises."

Those who fear chemical warfare have been calling South Georgia Army-Navy Surplus requesting gas masks. Manager Brenda Hollingsworth said the store sold out of the item when people feared Y2K incidents. The owner is trying to find some to order.

"Everyone has called and asked for them," Hollingsworth said.

She said business at the store has been good. "It is the hunting season, and hunters are buying camouflage," Hollingsworth said.

Earl Blanchard, owner of Orr's TV, said sales of a unique storm shelter have not substantially increased but may if changes in the design take place as planned.

The storm shelter is a fiberglass sphere which is buried in the ground and secured in place by concrete pipes. The units can be equipped with most modern conveniences, including radios, televisions, telephones and other battery-powered appliances.

Blanchard said he has sold the units for more than four years and had more inquiries than buyers. Plans are under way to transform the storm unit into a place of refuge in case of biological or chemical warfare.

"The new units will have doors and tops with vents, and could be secured with air cleaners put in. It is already in the planning," Blanchard said.

He said sales of satellite dishes and televisions have remained steady since the attacks.

"It hasn't affected us too much. It may, but I hope not," Blanchard said. "People aren't buying the big-screens as much, but they still want to watch the news."

Griffin Ford-Lincoln-Mercury 's General Sales Manager Mark Bennett reports that low- or no-interest rates on cars have helped to stimulate car buyers.

"The business suffered a 40 to 50 percent drop off, but we are picking back up now," Bennett said. "I think everyone just stayed in front of the television to see what would happen next."

Bennett said no financing charges on 2001 and 2002 new vehicles makes it a buyer's market.

"There will never be a better time to buy a car. That is for certain," Bennett said.



To contact reporter Angie Thompson, call 382-4321, ext. 208.



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