RESIDENTS usually enjoy the slow pace of this small village of 2,500. But with a Northeast regional economic slowdown causing declining sales and layoffs, people here are concerned about their businesses and their jobs.
``We've had to closely watch expenses and institute means of conserving money that weren't in the cards a year ago,'' says Kenneth Parker, an insurance company owner. ``We're seeing the tugs and pulls like everyone else.'' He says his company is feeling the pinch of a real estate slump that has forced many local contractors out of business.
A stroll through downtown White River Junction with campaigning one-term incumbent Rep. Peter Smith (R) of Vermont reveals a quiet community of state natives and out-of-state transplants. In addition to the economy, people here are concerned about development, conservation, and gun control.
Representative Smith, a moderate, is Vermont's only congressman and faces a close race this fall against the socialist former mayor of Burlington, Bernard Sanders, who is running as an independent. Some say they're surprised by Mr. Sanders's popularity in this historically conservative state.
``I hear a lot of people say, `I'm going to vote for Bernard Sanders' - people who are lifelong Vermonters, or people who are as conservative as they come,'' Mr. Parker says. He thinks some may like the former mayor because of his independence and that ``he doesn't have to toe any party's particular line.''
Smith, meanwhile, hopes to win support from Democrats and independents as well. Some locals like his stand on gun control. He was cited by the Rutland Herald as the first state politician ever to take a strong stand against the sale of assault weapons.
White River Junction, which earned its name as a major railroad crossing, is one of five villages within the town of Hartford, Vt. The area is home to several high-tech ``spin-off'' companies that have sprouted up around Dartmouth College in nearby Hanover, N.H.
A larger concern of state residents is balancing development interests with conservation. Some worry that recent development may ruin the state's rural quality. ``I'd like to keep Vermont Vermont, and not blow it all into cities,'' says local business owner Dick Lawrence.
John Schwenk is a software engineer at New England Digital, a local high-tech company. He favors Democratic Gov. Madeleine Kunin's Act 200, which integrates state, local, and regional planning. He also applauds the state's tough restrictions on development. ``I don't like to see malls and unrestrained development,'' he says.
Convenience-store owner Pete Pembricks, however, says such restrictions present ``real tough criteria to meet. People may not want to come to invest here.''
But he notes that the development boom is tapering off anyway. ``[The area] has had a tremendous growth and now it's going back to normal,'' he says. ``They were building condos up here like crazy.''