HER heart may have skipped a beat when she took the plunge and opened her fashion boutique but Newcastle business owner Stacey Hoye could not have played her hand any better.
Small business owners in the Hunter have benefited from low start-up costs and a regional economy that has weathered the recession better than most.
And in return they have played their part in keeping the Hunter economy ticking along this year, while others slowed significantly.
Ms Hoye opened her Hunter Street shop Missy Mou Fashion and Accessories with her mother Margaret in April, as economists predicted doom for Australia and the rest of the world.
"It was quite scary," Ms Hoye, 25, said.
"But we thought if we can survive this then we can just about survive anything."
Hunter Business Chamber chief executive Peter Shinnick said that on reflection, 2009 had been a good year to start a small business, despite gloomy forecasts.
He said that start-up costs were reduced with the cash rate at record lows and Government stimulus payments were complemented by low petrol prices.
"What we found here [the Hunter] was that a lot of the Government's stimulus spending went into people's pockets and they went shopping," he said.
Mr Shinnick said the Hunter had great employment diversity with a large public service sector, the university, and primary resources.
"There is no great dependence on the financial sector here, which is why we fared better than Sydney," he said.
Ms Hoye said the decision to open her Hunter Street boutique came from her love of the fashion industry and a lack of employment opportunities.
"Work was pretty scarce . . . so this was a good solution to finding a job," she said.
"You have to be realistic though and it takes a lot of sacrifice before you can reap the rewards."
Australian Retailer's Association executive director Russell Zimerman said the retail sector was the barometer of the Australian economy, with good sales figures in retail usually preceding economic recovery.