The Three Mile Island nuclear accident has had an immediate effect on the Harrisburg real estate market.
The homes were there. But, for the past week, the realtors weren't.
"We normally have approximately 935 salespeople working here and in the adjacent counties. But, like a lot of other people, most of them are just out of the area right now because of this accident," said John Dalinsky, executive secretary of the Greater Harrisburg Board of Realtors.
Dalinsky, like numerous other businessmen and state officials, could not give close estimates on the business losses tied to the Wednesday nuclear plant accident, but the word that recurred was "substantial," and that meant up to a 50 percent shortfall, according to Terry Graboyes, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Retailers Association.
The Hershey Chocolate Co., which sells $678.7 million worth of chocolate products a year, much of it manufactured in their plant 11 miles from Three Mile Island, was working round the clock to produce a public relations campaign to assure consumers that the company's candy is not radioactive.
Greater Harrisburg Chamber of Commerce officials expressed concern about losing a major share of the state's $4.7 billion tourism business. Hotel, restaurant and convention business they say, has already dropped markedly.
Bank deposits slumped as long lines formed to make withdrawals-some reportedly as high as $25,000. The Federal Reserve Board today brought in armoured trucks full of cash to replenish the local money supply.
But not all of the economic news was bad. Gasoline, ammunition and arms sales were up.
"The overwhelming international attention directed to the area certainly put it on the map. But the long-term impact may be to scare away tourists, businesses, residents and industrial and economic expansion," said state Rep. Stephen R. Reed.
"I am relatively sure that people who were thinking about buying a home, certainly within the 5-mile radius of the plant, won't come to buy them now," Reed added. It was, today at least, hard to find anyone who disagreed with him.
"In a way, though, the accident occurred at a fortunate time for the central Pennsylvania economy. This area, with its nearby Hershey Park, Gettysburg Battlefield and Amish communities, contributes nearly $1 billion to the state's annual $4.7 billion tourism income. But the tourist season hasn't started yet, and by the time it does, confidence may be restored.
And though there have been some scattered reports of upstate and out-of-state wholesalers rejecting dairy and meat goods produced inthis area, state Agriculture Secretary Penrose Hallowell said today the situation could be much worse.
"We're not into the planting season yet," Hallowell said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Mondayordered five meat processors within the 5-mile radius of the nuclear plant to close down their operations. But Hallowell said the closings were only temperory, to allow USDA officials "to gather information." He said the federal officials got the information they needed and that the plants reopened today.
Undoubtedly hardest hit were the smaller retail and specialty stores, especially those within a 5- to 10-mile radius of the nuclear plant.
Thousands of employes fled the area, effectively shutting down stores, restaurants and manufacturing concerns. And the consumers who patronize them left also.
Despite the run on the banks, state banking officials said today there was never any danger of their losing due to lack of funds. They said banking has returned to normal.
Economic winners in the troubled areas included gas station owners and people like Grant Stapleton, owner of the Sentinel Arms Co. in nearby Middletown.
Gas station owners in sourrounding counties reported sales increases of up to 300 percent, largely because of people who wanted to keep their tanks filled for a possible evaucation.
Stapleton said his business was booming because residents who chose not to flee were preparingto ward off looters.