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How do they do it?

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By Katy Korkos

The rumor mill is always churning in the county, with unsubstantiated rumors about businesses closing. Recent “separations” at the county’s largest employer have put a damper on the local business environment, but reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated, to paraphrase Mark Twain.“We’re not closing,” Liz Carlson said. Carlson and husband Bob own Bob’s Bodacious Barbecue, which grew from a mobile outfit they took to festivals and barbecue competitions, to its permanent location in the Hilltop Shopping Center just off Diamond Drive. “This rumor goes around every couple of years,” Liz Carlson added.She admitted she and her husband have had a hard time finding reliable help, which means they must work long hours to keep things running. Like most businesses, the restaurant would be for sale if the right offer came along, but the Carlsons said they love this town and hope to stay.Though Liz Carlson does dream of living in a place where there is a labor pool to draw from, she does not want to leave Los Alamos, and believes that the business has already survived its most serious challenge. “We opened the month before the lab shut down.  We’re hanging in there,” she said.The restaurant’s “Bike Night” will resume this Wednesday, after a brief break for winter. The popular event always brings at least 30 motorcyclists out to eat barbecue and show off their motorcycles. The restaurant offers a 10-percent discount on plates and sandwiches to draw in customers on what has been a slow night. “We have a nice little crowd that comes in,” Carlson said.She said that recent business had been off slightly, which she believes is due to national business trends rather than the local economy. Overall, though, “we actually had a good year,” Carlson said.An article in the March 13 Wall Street Journal quoted both House Financial Services Committee Chair Barney Frank, D-Mass., and his Senate counterpart Chris Dodd, D-Conn., as agreeing that the U.S. economy is in a recession.Don Taylor, whose shop Don Taylor Photography, has been in business for 24 years, attributes his success to his loyal clientele. “It’s a pleasure to be part of this community– as a business owner and as a resident,” Taylor said. The company is making use of the Internet for the sale of prints and reprints, and has invested in state-of-the-art computers, software and printers in order to stay abreast of new technology – “especially with the transition to digital,” he said. “We’ve kept up.”Another local business that has survived the transition to digital is Brownell’s Hallmark, which was first established in the county in 1946. Owner Steve Brownell is now in his 19th year in the community. The store has been selling cameras and photographic supplies along with cards and gifts, and has seen a shift in buying patterns that mirrors a national trend when it comes to shopping on the Internet, he said. One market segment that has been growing is that of young families who are new to town, Brownell added, especially the young mothers who are not willing to bundle up the children and drive off the Hill just to buy a greeting card or small gift.However, “one area that is not as strongly supported as in the past is our photo department,” he said, attributing low sales to misinformation about deals on the Internet. “The truth of the matter is, our prices are street prices. You’re not paying any more for a camera from me, except for the sales tax, and that depends on whether the online seller has a retail outlet in the state.”He said that on the flip side, the card and gift areas of the store appeared to be growing well before the laboratory announced layoffs in November.“Last year was basically flat, but we went into November up about seven percent,” Brownell said. “After Christmas, we came out just about break even. I attribute that solely to cruel and inhumane treatment by LANS and the DOE.” Brownell added that he finds it representative of the way the new management team looks at the community that very few of the top managers live in Los Alamos.Brownell said that overall, he finds the business climate to be comparable to what it was when he bought his business 20 years ago“The community has always been somewhat ‘retail-challenged,’” he said, “but our customer base is very loyal.”