National economy, small businesses, holiday shopping and the flea market

28 Nov

I’m not an economist.  I’m not an anything-ist.  I’m just one more average everyday sort of person, millions of which struggle to survive on this planet every day.

Like everyone else in my “rank,” you might say, of socio-economic standing, I have been hit fairly hard by the economy’s struggles.  I haven’t been devastated by it, I didn’t have enough money to have that kind of issues.  Its more an issue of low paying jobs and unemployment, since the American dream became something most Americans never will achieve.

I measure the economy’s health in small ways.  The best way?  I hit the flea market.  Especially the weekend after Thanksgiving.  Forget all the Black Friday stuff.  I want to see the nitty gritty of holiday shopping.

I went today.  What did I see?

I saw a lot of businesses that had been regulars at the flea market, selling items of quality made by local craftsmen & women, they are gone.  In their place I saw more booths with second hand items and cheap imported goods.  For a Southern flea market, I saw a surprising number of vendors with whom English was a second language and fluency was still a goal they were striving towards.  There used to be a several vendors selling live poultry and cage birds, along with small pet vendors.  I saw one selling poultry, and perhaps two with small pets.  The two bigger woodcraft shops were represented, but only one small one selling items that appeared to probably be handcrafted…and they were also the only booth with holiday themed items.  There were only about half the usual number of vendors with live plants too.

Maybe the weather had something to do with the disappearance of so many, but at the same time…cold but dry weather is not unexpected this time of year, and is far more appreciated than cold & wet weather is.  So…I think the weather can be discounted.  I think those missing vendors have left the small business front, for whatever reason, and are no longer in existence.

I did listen to vendors as they talked…to each other, on the phone, to their partners…and to customers.  I tried bargaining.  I got a very small amount knocked off of a purchase.  Vendors weren’t as desperate for sales, so weren’t as likely to bargain or bargain as far.  They also were pleased with the sales on the second day of the holiday weekend shopping at the flea market, which means that people WERE buying more.  It seems that their rough projections were that they had already sold two to three times as much as they had in the previous five years during the entire weekend…and they still had the third day, traditionally a stronger day in the flea market business, to make more sales.

What does that mean to us average joes in the world?  It means that more average joes are spending a bit more already, early in the holiday shopping calendar.  Early spending means that we (the biggest portion of consumers in the world) have a bit of extra money and we are buying things.  It might be necessities, purchases that we’ve put off for some time as we waited for sales, or necessary items for gifting…but we are buying again for the first time since before Katrina.

I bought too.  I bought a wallet to replace my worn out one.  I bought an over-the-door hanger gizmo for jackets and shirts, as I’ve grown weary of them being tossed just anywhere.  I bought a pair of salt & pepper Tupperware shakers that the vendor swore up and down were entirely water & spill proof–perfect for adding to my camping box.  I bought a couple of small gifts for friends’ children and an old iron skillet with a wonderfully smooth finish for myself.  I also bought a new Y vegetable peeler as my old one had rusted and the traditional straight one is virtually a torture device for me to use.  My companions bought small items like mine.  None of us spent a lot of money…but we spent a bit of it.  I’ve actually spent more on the post-Thanksgiving weekend shopping at the flea market when there were vendors there with locally made goods than I did this year.  But…how much imported-from-china-junk did I really NEED?

I still have a few items on my shopping list.  I’m in search of a GPS and I’ve set my mind on purchasing a Magellan one.  I need a doll suitable for a 2 year old friend’s granddaughter, and something to give a 9 month old boy–nothing major but something to make them smile at Christmas.  I still need something for my son in law & daughter, as well as my granddaughter…but what can a 3 month old baby really enjoy?  She’s too little to enjoy much yet.  As for GM…he’s going to get his gift early, and that means there won’t be anything under the “tree” for him from me…but, that’s an essential item we’ve put off for two years and he really needs.  Our “Christmas” gifts are really the new printer we needed so badly and a GPS to avoid spending so much time utterly lost.  (Sprint’s Navigation GPS application is dreadful and coverage for Sprint is too spotty on the Gulf Coast.  If we’re five miles or more away from the interstate, we’re highly likely to lose all connectivity.)  I guess at our age, Christmas morning surprises aren’t as thrilling–we tend to focus on what we need and have little space for stuff we don’t.  (Christmas gifting hint for us–send #901 ink cartridges for an HP printer! That’s something we’d definitely appreciate!)

We have a few other items on our wish list–mostly needed items.  Few items are “high dollar” even by our small standards.  (For us, $100 is pushing that “high dollar” line very hard!)  We’re working on living smaller, and with it, we’ve got smaller wants and needs.  Did the economy contribute?  Without a doubt, it provided us with the push to try something we’d talked about but may have never done otherwise.  Do we regret it?  No, but like every other change in anyone’s life, we have found some things we’d wished we’d done differently.

All in all, between having a new grand child and a new status as grandparents, we’re very happy.  We remain optimistic, and the recent observations have me more so.  The less-than-comfortable facets of our lives are things we will hopefully be able to change soon, one way or another.  Life is full of compromises and adaptations, and that ability is what makes humans a fairly successful species in general.  Now…if we can just reduce our impact on the planet to a sustainable level we’ll be doing good!

So for those of you who are contemplating your business and the immediate future in terms of the economy, things are beginning to show signs of improvement.  The flea market observations I’ve made over time tell me that it is a very early indicator of the economy in general, but it is telling me that things have bottomed out already, and the climb has begun.  It may take years to actually recover–that’s no news to any of us.  But the recovery has begun at the bottom of the ladder, and that’s a better sign than we’ve seen in the last five years.

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