FOSTORIA - During a Tuesday lunch "rush" last month at the Caf, a family-style restaurant and town hangout, less than half the tables were occupied.
Most of the patrons enjoying a cup of hearty vegetable soup or a steak sandwich were senior citizens - the clamor and commotion of young children replaced by the low hum of chatter between elders.
Bev Bohring, who along with her husband Dale has owned the Caf for 12 years, remembers a time when the eatery was bustling and people of all ages were walking through the doors.
Such is life for a restaurant owner in a community rocked by numerous local factory closings.
"At any given time you used to have three or four families in here," said Ms. Bohring, 65. "Today, if you're in town, you can't raise kids and eat out."
Like so many communities in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan, Fostoria has suffered myriad job losses and related economic problems because of factories that have closed and in many cases shipped work elsewhere in the United States.
Since 2002, eight factories have shut down in Fostoria, a town of about 13,000 people with portions in Wood, Seneca, and Hancock counties. In the last two years alone, ThyssenKrupp Crankshaft (376 jobs), Fostoria Industries (100 jobs), Ameri-Kart (54 jobs), and Uniboard Fostoria (40 jobs) have either closed or announced their intentions to cease operations and ship work to Illinois, Tennessee, Indiana, Michigan, North Carolina, and Canada.
Though it remains open, Honeywell Autolite's spark plug plant has dropped from more than 1,000 employees 10 years ago to about 260 because of outsourcing to Mexico, spreading more pain to Fostoria's families, small businesses, and local government.
"I bet we have 5 or 10 people a day come in here looking for a job," Ms. Bohring said. "And these are men, 45, 50 years old, who had factory jobs and are now looking for restaurant work. They're willing to do anything for a job."
Ms. Bohring said she throws away applications every six months, mostly because opportunities are rare for her to hire. She said the Caf is doing about $150,000 less in business a year since its strongest point about six years ago.
She laid off three people two winters ago and has had to pick up some cooking responsibilities in addition to her role as a manager.
Dr. Chris Seidler, a veterinarian in Fostoria since 1974, estimated that his business has declined 25 percent over the last 10 years.
"When people lose a job at a factory or whatever the case, they take care of the essentials like rent and utilities with the money they have," Dr. Seidler said. "Small animals, and my practice is entirely taking care of small animals, basically become a luxury."
The flight of manufacturing and its ripple effect on the local economy have had an obvious impact on the city of Fostoria's finances. Mayor John Davoli said income tax collections are down about $2 million from 2006 and 2007, which he said resulted in the layoffs of some police and firefighters.
Despite those cuts and others, Mr. Davoli said last month that the general fund was still projecting a deficit of about $400,000.
"We provide the best services with the funds we have, but that's dictated by the income taxes we take in," said Mr. Davoli, who is running for Wood County commissioner as an independent. "Factory closures are a sore subject here in Fostoria."
In the face of a dwindling pool of public resources, Mr. Davoli suggested a small tax cut instead of a tax increase to make the city more competitive against the states that are attracting Fostoria's manufacturers.
City Council rejected Mr. Davoli's plan and has instead placed on the ballot a measure to maintain the city's income tax rate at 2 percent.
Mr. Davoli is hopeful for a turnaround in Fostoria spurred by the city's proximity to rail, water, and a small airport. He also touts developments such as the establishment of the POET Biorefining ethanol plant in Fostoria as a sign of positive days ahead.
All Ms. Bohring knows is she can't afford to lose many more customers.
"That's a worry every one of us has every day - is it going to get bad enough that we have to close," Ms. Bohring said with one eye on the Caf's unoccupied cash register.
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