Monday, October 8, 2007

Forget the Wall Street Journal, drive around town to understand what the economy is like.

One of my favorite Saturday activities is to hit the yard sales and thrift stores. Sometimes I score some real finds in the areas that I collect and to sell on eBay. The real scores aren’t frequent but they do occur. This year I can claim among my finds; some 1st pressing Kinks LPs in astounding condition, the obligatory stash of great books and a Heywood-Wakefield end table. There is a side benefit to hitting these spots each weekend and that is a chance to gauge the market and financial situation among my fellow Atlantans.

Last summer I began seeing a noticeable rise in for sale and house for rent signs on my typical routes. As this summer has come to a close I have seen a serious drop in those signs along the road but the homes are not being sold. They sit empty, the yards beginning to look un-kept and messy. Next will come random vandalism as the homes sit, unsold and unused. The vandalism will ruin the homes and bring down the values of the surrounding houses even more.

The thrift stores are seeing more and more shoppers. I’ve noticed this as the summer has progressed. I’ve been used to a mix of three distinct groups of people at these stores over the years. One, the group I am a part of, is the dealers who sell on eBay or have booths at antique malls. Two is the group of folks who just love to find bargains and the thrill of looking for a serious “find” at the stores. The last group is the folks who really do benefit from buying clothes and household items at thrift stores. I think the latest upswing in shoppers at the thrift stores is comprised of folks who have suddenly felt the pinch of the economic downturn. I see more new cars parked in front of the store and more folks who are dressed like the stereotypical suburbanite.

Even at the farmer’s market I am seeing more folks who drive cars and are dressed differently than the people I normally see. Among the chores I had to do this weekend was a trip to get some groceries, so off I went to the International Farmer’s Market in Chamblee. Normally I see an interesting mix of folks at this market, this time I saw more middle class, suburban white folks than I am used to seeing there. They were all over the fresh produce and fruit aisles and to be honest I am actually very happy to see this development. These stores offer the best buys and the produce really is tasty like fresh from a backyard garden. I’m all for supporting independent stores and giving the middle finger to the big chain stores.

People are frugal for only one of two reasons, they want to or they have to. I am trying to live a more frugal lifestyle and I’ve straddled the fence between living more along my means and higher than I should have for years. I seem to go in cycles where I wise in managing my money and blowing it. Blowing it has always led me to feeling depressed after a while. When I reach the cusp of realizing what I am doing I have been able to back down and live a more reasonable lifestyle but by then the damage has already been done. On comes the depression.

I think there is a sudden increase in people who now have to live a more frugal lifestyle and I don’t think they are too happy either. Imagine losing your home and winding up back in an apartment? Imagine going from buying the latest plasma widescreen TV to hitting church and charity thrift stores looking to buy a used washer and dryer? I see those folks shopping at these places, their faces are new, their clothes are new and they drive cars more expensive than my Jeep. They don’t look very happy to be shopping at St. Vinnie’s.

We are being given warning signs by even the mainstream press that the economic downturn is just going to get worse in the upcoming months. I’m not an economist but even I can sense and see things that lead me to believe that we are only seeing the early stages of things getting hard in this country. I have a feeling I’ll be seeing more unhappy folks at the thrift stores. I’ll be there looking for good deals and things I know I can sell on eBay. I’m afraid they will be there not out of choice but out of necessity and that bothers me a lot. To all of the new shoppers at the thrift stores who aren’t happy with this new twist in life all I can tell you is buck it up, it could always be worse and stay out of the record bins. I’m the cat who buys the vintage vinyl for his collection.

No comments: