As some of you know, I recently traveled to Jacksonville, Florida to visit family. While there, I took note of how the local small businesses seemed to be faring in these economic times. Unfortunately for them, it appears that the recession has hit harder there than my hometown of Denver.

Having talked to owners at events around the Denver Metro Area, I know that businesses here are struggling. I’ve seen it as I drive around the city. Thursday night I saw that a store I had been meaning to visit, Japon on Colfax, had closed its doors. Within the past couple of months I had read an article that the owner had been mulling over the idea because business had slowed but it wasn’t until that night I realized she had made her decision.

However, as opposed to seeing a store here and there closed on Colfax, I saw stores closed left and right as I drove down Main Street in Jacksonville. Now Main Street isn’t quite like our Colfax – it is probably a little poorer and hasn’t been as lively as Colfax as long as I can remember. However, it is an area that was up and coming. Houses in the neighborhood were being renovated and small boutique stores and restaurants had started to pop up here and there. Road work started last year to improve the road and signs had been put up about how you were “Entering the Historic Springfield District”. Over the last few years, it had started to look like it might end up much like our Colfax – a fun place to visit with an interesting mix of people hanging around.

Today, though, I saw firsthand how the economy hit places worse than others. Florida’s real estate market boomed in the late 1990s and early 2000’s. Condos, track houses, and commercial real estate were being built faster than you could blink your eyes. Investors, hoping to flip places as soon as or even before they were complete, would buy properties that were still only drawings. And like a kid playing with a balloon, when it got hit with something, the balloon burst.

Housing prices are a fraction of what they once were. Thriving businesses now have for sale signs on them. And Main Street has returned to looking like it had – a street that has potential but has a long way to go. Several restaurants that just last year had cars in front of them every time I drove by were empty or closed – even a fast food place had shut down. Several businesses on the south end had plywood over their windows with warnings about trespassers and for lease signs. Renovation projects sat half complete with no signs of being completed any time soon.

I compare this with Denver, where only a handful of businesses have closed so far. Maybe it is that the values in Denver didn’t increase so much in so little time. Maybe it is that Denver still has several industries, such as renewable energy, that are weathering the economic storm. Maybe it is that Denver didn’t have quite the levels of poverty that the South prior to the downturn. What factors played a role in this I don’t know; however, I do know that next time I hear about how bad the recession is, I will look at it differently and realize for some areas, it is far worse than what I have seen.