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A good year--to forget
Top business stories of 2009

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Date published: 1/2/2010

BY BILL FREEHLING

The year 2009 won't be remembered fondly from an economic standpoint.

Though the economy of the country, state and Fredericksburg region showed signs of improvement toward the latter part of 2009, the recession continued to have its effects. That crimped the profits of the private sector and reduced the tax base of local, state and federal governments.

Below is a list of 10 of the most important business stories in 2009 for the Fredericksburg region, in no particular order. Here's hoping for a better 2010.

The fallout from an overheated housing market continued in 2009, with median prices falling year-over-year in every month through November in the Fredericksburg area. Sales improved, driven by lower prices and an $8,000 federal tax credit for first-time buyers, but inventory supply continued to outpace demand and distressed sales accounted for about half the total volume. That led to sluggish demand for new homes, forcing area homebuilders to slash staffs to skeleton levels and putting some suppliers out of business.

New-car sales exploded in the Fredericksburg region this past summer in response to the federal government's Cash for Clunkers program, which allowed people to get up to $4,500 toward the price of a new vehicle if they traded in an older-model gas guzzler. That reversed months of year-over-year declines in auto sales and gave the local economy a short-term shot in the arm. One that didn't get to take advantage was Britt Chrysler Jeep, which was one of the dealerships that Chrysler Group LLC decided to close in its efforts to restructure.

A new trend of frugality crimped the sales of local retailers. Taxable sales declined 3.1 percent in the region in the first nine months of 2009 compared with the same period in 2008. Some retailers didn't make it, including several in Fredericksburg's Central Park, leading to rising vacancy rates and a handful of commercial foreclosures. The planned closing of Ukrop's in Spotsylvania County early next year may further increase the vacancy rate if a new tenant isn't found. The First Market Bank inside the local Ukrop's will close March 22. A bright spot was improved holiday sales, which retailers will hope carries over into 2010.


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