Saturday, February 07, 2009

does not compute

If you listen to the news and the politicians, we should all be boning up on harmonizing "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?"

Jodes a'plenty. Bread lines. Dust bowls.

They should be everywhere.

I don't doubt there are people hurting financially -- and that added together, they should be quite evident in our daily lives.

But here is what I have seen recently. On New Year's Eve, Beth and I went to a pre-play dinner. It was very early in the evening, but every table was full. When we left, we could barely make our way out of the reception area. It was packed.

Now, this was the type of restaurant where a couple can easily drop $140 for dinner. And it was New Year's Eve. Maybe people were simply celebrating.

But I have been to several lunches and dinners (many associated with Steve's Big Birth Year) since then. With one exception, the restaurants were packed -- whether a small lunch place or a fancy evening restaurant.

Exhibit #2: As you know, I have been looking for a lap top. After shopping around for a week, I decided I would buy the Sony Z series I mentioned earlier this week.

I have now stood twice at Best Buy beside the computer with my credit card out holding a stack of other merchandise. On Friday evening, I waited for an hour without attracting a salesman. On Saturday evening, a young man stopped momentarily and then rushed off never to be seen again.

On both nights, I could not blame indifferent salesmen. A platoon of blue-shirted young men were running hither and yon trying to keep up with the customers -- customers who were buying shopping baskets full of electronic goods. The waiting line to purchase goods looked like the check-in line at the airport. Almost literally.

And this was not the tony New Year's Eve restaurant crowd. By their clothes, they appeared to be regular working class Americans. (Of course, clothing in America is no clue of a person's social station. Many of my colleagues dress as if they were extras in a gangsta rap video. There may be a future blog in that comment.)

All of this in one of Oregon's poorest cities -- in a state with 9% reported unemployment.

Billie made similar observations as a result of her recent visit to Houston. Something does not seem right.

We used to talk about the invisible poor. I am wondering if we have outed another group -- the invisible affluent.

What I do know is that I appear to be one of the few people in Salem without a new computer. I intend to resolve that matter soon -- even if I have to order it online.

11 comments: said...

Maybe you need to come up to the 'big city" to shop.

Steve Cotton said...

Jackie -- I was in Clackamas today. Had lunch at Elmer's and then went shopping at Costco. But Costco was too busy. (I should have mentioned that.) I also stopped at Fry's. Same problem.

What is going on?

glorv1 said...

I have noticed that there seems to be more cars out on the street, Walmart is jam packed with people pushing and shoving as if they don't hurry up, someone else will get it, planting seeds are going fast, egg laying brown hens are being grabbed as fast as they come into the feed store. I don't know, I thought we were supposed to be hurting?

Steve Cotton said...

Gloria -- A friend from Colorado (who does not comment on my blog) sent me an email saying that he and his wife just had the same conversation. Something strange is going on. Maybe some people are planting gardens, who never have. Thus the run on seeds. But computers? That would be one of the last things I would buy. Oops! I guess that's not true. It's the first thing I am buying. Go figure.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting day today in L.A. We had some rain this afternoon and decided to go to the Westside Pavilion Mall. Couldn't get into the paring structures (this has never happened before) then preceded to Century City mall since it is an outdoor mall and figured it wasn't a refuge from the rain - what da ya know - could not get into any of the parking structures and had to return home ?????? Never happened before, even at Christmas holidays.


American Mommy in Mexico said...

I admit confusion as well.

Steve Cotton said...

Rick -- And I would understand the full lots if people had decided to go "shopping" for the entertainment value. But, at least at Best Buy, people had baskets filled with electonic goods. Bizarre. Of course, maybe people have taken the president at his word. If the federal government can spend us into a successful economy, individuals can do the same thing. But I thought that was what got us to this point.

AMM -- Maybe things are getting too odd for logic.

Anonymous said...

What is little understood is that we live in an economy which is designed to be profitable pretty much only when it runs at full capacity. Especially in retail, the difference between sales running up 5% or running down 5% is HUGE on the profit line. Basically, just about all of the costs are fixed. When sales run down, retailers cut prices, aka run sales, so their gross margins decline.

After a few weeks of weak sales, they begin to cut back on staff. This happens across the entire economy.

Could you go into a mall and reliably spot 5% fewer people than normal? Could you spot them carrying fewer bags? Would you notice if those bags were filled with opening price point items vs more expensive things?

I thought not.

Just look at the published statistics from retailers. They are pretty much all hurting, with the exception of Wal*Mart, club stores like Costco (though even Costco which doesn't have a sales problem felt compelled to cut prices), and grocery stores. And the "better" the store, the worse the trend. So Neimans, Saks, and Nordstrom are hurting the most.

The rich are different. They actually can cut back, and they are doing so with a vengeance. Oh, and they also constitute the bulk of discretionary spending.

Consumer spending is worsening, despite what you may have seen at the mall.

Sorry to be so grim. But it's the truth.


Kim G
Boston, MA
Where rush-hour traffic does seem to be a smidgen better these days. Or am I imagining that?

Steve Cotton said...

Kim -- I realize that anecdote-based evidence is often no evidence at all. But there appears to be a huge disconnect between how people act and how politicians try to manipulate us. Not that we need to stop the presses for that piece of news.

norm said...

Here in Ohio it is bad. The stores are empty on Saturdays when it used to be stepping on toes type crowds. Everyone knows someone who is out of work. The steelmill I worked for is down to half manning and 32 hours a week for those still on the clock. Trust me, there is no waiting at the bar.

Steve Cotton said...

Norm -- And it should be bad here, as well. I finally bought the computer today. And the store was still busy. I asked the clerk. He said the computers had been flowing out the door.