Main Street Worry: Gas Prices, Not Stock Prices The financial crisis on Wall Street is spreading to Main Street. Retirees are keeping a nervous eye on their 401K balances. Business owners are feeling the pinch as customers think twice before buying a new TV or even a dinner out.

Main Street Worry: Gas Prices, Not Stock Prices

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


By now, you've seen the images of the financial crisis, the harried traders, the worried regulators, the scrambling legislators. Those are the scenes on Wall Street and in Washington. But how is this all playing out in the heartland? We asked Maria Carter of member station KCUR to head out to the streets of Kansas City. And it didn't take long to get a read on the impact there.

MARIA CARTER: It's just after daybreak here at City Market. The vendors have set up, selling everything from fresh-picked peaches to peppers and other produce. Customers are slowly starting to trickle in, but Roy McFarland(ph) says he's seen a change in how they shop.

Mr. ROY MCFARLAND (City Market Vendor, Kansas City): Now, this year, I sold probably more vegetable plants than I ever sold before. But I think that was because a lot of people might have been putting a garden in that hadn't been putting a garden in. And - but all in all, the economy just couldn't be in much worse shape than what it is.

CARTER: And all those people looking to save a few dollars with a garden means McFarland's vegetable sales have dropped. McFarland is a lifelong farmer and says he gets by. His house is paid off, and he's driven the same truck for more than three decades. He says Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, and AIG should have been more responsible.

Mr. MCFARLAND: To me, a bank or anything else should never have gotten in that kind of shape. I've always said if you can't stay in business, get out of business.

CARTER: McFarland does not want his tax dollars going to bail out multi-billion-dollar companies on Wall Street. But just a few stalls down, Rocky Romeo(ph) takes a more pragmatic view.

Mr. ROCKY ROMEO (City Market Vendor, Kansas City): If we didn't have that bailout for that - for companies like that, it would cause a great deal of hardship for a lot of people.

CARTER: Romeo has a more direct connection to the financial crisis than many in Kansas City. He works from his home backing up documents for a New York City mortgage broker. That business is down, so this summer he started a weekend job at the farmers market and gets his own help from the government, food stamps.

Mr. ROMEO: That makes a lot of the bills a lot easier, you know, having food that I don't have to pay for out of pocket.

CARTER: Romeo is not alone in having to make tough financial choices. It's a half hours drive down the interstate to Gardner, Kansas. Sam Boyajian owns Gardner Pharmacy, and he says people are finding it tough to make ends meet.

Mr. SAM BOYAJIAN (Proprietor, Gardner Pharmacy): This isn't like, well, they are going to do without the icing on the cake or something - or some luxury that people normally would buy. These are medications, and this is vital to their health. And I see some of my patients going without their medications, and there's not a thing I can do about it. There's nothing they can do about it. And it's just not right.

CARTER: But down the street, Bernita Wetherington(ph) works at Rocheda Chocolates(ph) and says none of her customers are sacrificing.

Ms. BERNITA WETHERINGTON (Employee, Rocheda Chocolates): People give up other things for chocolate. We have discovered that because they'll tell you that.

CARTER: The store opened earlier this summer selling handmade truffles and peanut butter cups as big as cupcakes. Wetherington says the bailouts on Wall Street seem unfair to small family-owned businesses.

Ms. WETHERINGTON: Small businesses just go under. Big businesses they take care off.

CARTER: For now, Wetherington says, like many people she knows, she's more worried about prices at the gas station than about stock prices on Wall Street. For NPR News, I'm Maria Carter in Kansas City.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.