September’s surprise attack on the United States, and our nation’s subsequent and ongoing military response to terrorists worldwide, has left an anxious American populace in a profound state of malaise. Suddenly, that trip to the auto dealership, or to the shopping mall, or to the specialty floor covering store is no longer at the top of the consumer’s agenda.

Yes, we are engaged in war. But in America, sobered and aggrieved though we are, life goes on. As our nation’s leaders have indicated, to allow terrorist threats to change our daily way of living, to scrap the carefully laid plans we’ve made, is to deliver victory to the enemy.

Well, over the long term, that’s just not going to happen. More than half a century ago, the United States emerged from the Great Depression to extinguish the unprecedented military threat posed by the Axis powers. Today, the United States commands an unparalleled military force, our government has run a budget surplus for several years and we’ve just experienced perhaps the longest and most robust economic expansion in our history. Surely, we will whip the ragtag, terrorist cabal that now seeks to test our nation’s mettle.

Even as our soldiers and allies throughout the free world mobilize to neutralize the terrorist menace, we civilians have a contribution of our own to make. And, if you are a flooring retailer, that means you need to get back to what you do best -- selling floor coverings.

This isn’t, by any means, an insurmountable challenge. In the wake of Sept. 11, retailer Tom Jennings of Lawrence, Kan.-based Carpet One made a canny observation about floor coverings and consumers. “They are still walking on it,” he said. “They’re still wearing it out.” So, it naturally follows, they’ll be buying it again before too long.

Consultant Pam Danziger of Stevens, Pa.-based Unity Marketing expressed the near-term retailing outlook in somewhat more analytical terms. “Stress relief will play a bigger and bigger role in shopping behavior,” she said. “In the face of crisis, women, who do the bulk of American households’ shopping, will continue to buy for emotional satisfaction.” Though luxury purchases are likely to be curtailed by stressed-out U.S. consumers, discretionary purchases -- which Danziger characterizes as products that people buy not because they urgently need them but rather because they make their lives “meaningfully better” -- should hold up, particularly as we move into the holiday season.

There’s one wild card in this scenario, however. One man’s discretionary purchase may be another man’s luxury item. Therefore, Danziger says, retailers must provide consumers with sufficient “justifiers” that overcome barriers to purchase and give them a reason to buy. If retailers can convince their customers that their products enhance the quality of their lives, as floor coverings inarguably do, the consumers will feel justified in buying them.

The home will remain a focus of consumer spending, Danziger adds, as consumers hunker down and try to make their homes a more secure and comforting environment. Certainly, new floor coverings can do much to establish such an environment.

Our leaders and allies have rallied to take care of the business at hand. Those of us on the homefront should do no less. What President Calvin Coolidge said in an earlier era still applies today: “The chief business of the American people is business.”

So, let’s get back to business. We owe it to our nation and we owe it to ourselves.