By Paul Schott

U.S. Rep, Jim Himes, D-4, canvassed business owners and promoted his economic agenda during a campaign stop Tuesday in downtown Westport as his re-election bid kicks into high gear.

The freshman congressman toured Main Street and Post Road businesses, stopping at places like Gold's Delicatessen, Mirabelle Cheese Shop and Sally's Place record store. Himes' visit to Westport is the latest in a series of a "business walks" that he has been conducting in towns and cities in the 4th Congressional District.

"In Connecticut, all new net job creation comes from small businesses," Himes told the Westport News. "That's why I've hit the majority of towns in my district to talk to small businesses to find out what more we can do."

Local business owners suggested ways they'd like to see Himes and his colleagues in Congress help the Westport economy.

"If they could just make things a little easier in terms of financing, that would be great, because we're expanding and growing," said Faye Kim, owner of the Faye Kim Designs jewelry store on Main Street.

Damon Itin, co-owner of Mirabelle Cheese Shop, told Himes he is concerned about nearby property vacancies that could drive down traffic to his establishment.

He also cited special challenges of locally run establishments like Mirabelle. "We're Mom and Pop-operated, so it's a real challenge these days to survive against the big guys who have millions of dollars in advertising and marketing behind them," he said.

"Any kind of help that the federal government can give to support that type of business (like Mirabelle), that can really create a lot good things in the community," he added.

Aside from getting input from local merchants, Himes also used the business walk to defend the legislation he has supported in Washington. In particular, he refuted criticism from his Republican opponent, state Sen. Dan Debicella of Shelton, that the stimulus bill has been ineffective.

"He's just plain wrong," Himes said of Debicella's opposition to the federal stimulus bill. "Pretty much all of the economists out there will tell you that it was a critical part of preventing a depression." The stimulus, he insisted, "has saved or created in the neighborhood of three million jobs. It included a very substantial number of tax cuts, including for small businesses."

First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, a fellow Democrat who accompanied Himes on his downtown tour, said Himes' support of the stimulus bill has had a tangible effect on Westport.

He said the town In has been allocated $1.3 million in the next round of stimulus funding and that money will be used to street paving.

Despite the adverse economic climate, the business owners Himes met projected an air of cautious optimism abut the future.

"We've actually been doing wonderfully in the last year or so," said Jim Eckl, owner of Gold's Delicatessen on the Post Road.

He added that while legislation in Washington plays a part in helping local businesses, a loyal clientele is equally important.

And Tuesday, Himes played his own, small part in helping the Westport economy.

"Here's a question for you," he asked Sally White, owner of the Sally's Place Record store on Main Street. "Do you have any Louis Jordan? I've been looking all over." A few minutes later, the congressman walked out of the record store with a smile and a CD of the legendary jazzman in hand.