COUDERSPORT — Congressman Fred Keller took a walking tour of Coudersport on Tuesday afternoon.
Potter County commissioner Susan Kefover and Chamber of Commerce director Nancy Grupp escorted Keller into several Main Street businesses before Kefover took him on a driving tour of the borough.
After lunch at The Hotel Crittenden, the crew stopped in at Sew Much More, Cream ‘n Sugar and Abundant Blessings to speak with the owners about their business and any issues they may have.
Keller said it is important to him and his team to be visible in the community and talk with people about their concerns.
“We just want to make sure we get around and let you know that if you need anything, we’re available to listen to what is on your mind,” Keller told Janice Darrah, owner of Sew Much More.
Darrah and Keller agreed it is important for students to be taught how to sew, among other things, in school because it’s a basic fundamental.
“They need to teach them skills they can use all the rest of their lives,” Darrah said. One employment problem she runs into is not being able to find people who know how to do what she does.
“A lot of people can sew a straight seam — pillow or whatever — but to do garment construction where you have to tear something apart and know how it’s put back together … is a whole different ball game,” Darrah said.
Keller met with Cream ‘n Sugar owner Abigail Rossman, who told him she was concerned about the minimum wage possibly increasing.
“That’s a huge thing for someone like me,” Rossman said. “That would put me out of business.”
Keller agreed and asked what raising the minimum wage would accomplish.
“We have to be very careful about the policy because if we raise it, the cost of everything increases. Then once everything equalizes at that level, does the person really have any more buying power?,” Keller said.
Rossman said the business hours might have to be shortened with less staff if minimum wage was increased.
Abundant Blessings owner Jennifer Painter shared her concerns as a small business owner with Keller: minimum wage increase, credit card processing fees and the unemployment system.
She said she’s let employees go because they were always late, had bad attitudes or because they just weren’t doing their jobs, and then they’re able to file for unemployment and that money comes out of the business.
“I have $92 a week coming out right now for an employee” who she let go after the employee was late multiple times, Rossman said. “I wrote her up, I did everything right and she still gets unemployment.”
“It happens a lot in this area. I feel like people come to work just to get their time in to go on unemployment,” Paintner said.
Keller told the Potter Leader-Enterprise he worked in Coudersport and Potter County when he worked in the lumber industry and it was great to get reacquainted with the community and hardworking people here.
“Susan (Kefover) and the commissioners have done a great job revitalizing the downtown and it shows just with the businesses through here,” Keller said.
He said he appreciated the thoughtfulness of the business owners he spoke with and wants to take their voice to the government.
He again stressed he didn’t believe raising the minimum wage would give anyone more buying power, but rather would create more problems for those who are on a fixed income.
“I don’t know that just picking a number and the government setting a wage is the way to go about it,” Keller said.
“Some of our school districts will have to increase wages for cafeteria workers and that will cause property taxes to increase,” Keller said. “People on a fixed income aren’t going to see that increase and I think that will make more struggle.”