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A (Very) Few Bright Spots

Michael Panzner has assembled a number of positive news items! – Ilene

A (Very) Few Bright Spots

green shoots and bright spotsCourtesy of Michael Panzner at Financial Armageddon

At Financial Armageddon, I focus on telling it like it is, so naturally that means most of what I have to say these days leans towards the negative. That said, it’s not all gloom-and-doom. Below are snippets from recent news reports that highlight a few bright spots in an economy that still faces a heap of trouble:

Generic and second-tier brands, and stay-at-home alternatives:

"Dollar Stores Enjoying Boom Times" (Loudoun Times-Mirror)

The worse the economy, the better for retailers of deeply discounted items. Partly fueled by higher-income shoppers "trading down," the popularity of dollar stores has risen sharply since the current recession began in December 2007.

"RI Coffee Roasters Thrive in Recession"  (Associated Press)

While many Rhode Island businesses struggle during the recession, the state’s coffee roasters are percolating.

The roasters, who turn out small batches of gourmet coffee beans, tell The Providence Journal that they are seeing an increase in business these days.

Ken Marot of Taylor’s Landing, a coffee roasting house and cafe in West Kingston, says he’s been pleasantly surprised to see his customer base grow.

Bob Mastin at Custom House Coffee in Middletown says he just added a second roaster to his cafe and wholesale business.

Mastin says even when people are watching their money, they want a quality cup of coffee.

Rhode Island roasters attribute their resilience to other factors, such as people wanting to save money by brewing their morning java at home.

"Private Labels Booming in These Tough Times" (Telegraph-Journal)

Penny-pinching shoppers have prompted a boost for discount goods businesses and cuts into sales of popular brands.

For Dieppe-based Irving Consumer Products Inc. this has meant increased demand causing record production levels.

The privately-held company is seeing increased sales in paper tissue, towel, diaper and private label brands it makes.

"Naturally in this economic climate the consumer looking at options starts looking at trading down," says company vice-president of sales Bob Tinnish.

The company’s growth is strongest south of the border where there is more potential for store labels to gain market share from big brand names.

"Luxury Wine Market Reels from Downturn" (Wall Street Journal)

Many of America’s high-end wineries are reeling from the economic downturn, as even wealthy drinkers slash spending on fine wines.

The slump comes as Americans continue to drink more wine overall. Recession-weary consumers, however, are buying more mid- and low-priced wines, causing a sharp falloff in sales of wines priced at $25 a bottle and higher.

datingMatchmaking and dating:

"Love Sites Booming in Tough Economy" (WCBD)

Times are tough, but you still have to live, laugh, and sometimes fall in love, right?

That philosophy is causing quite a boom in the matchmaking business.

Christie Nightengale is the owner of Premier Match in Philadelphia.  She thought when the economy started tanking, her business would too.

“We never saw a drop.  If anything we saw an increase.  We closed the year with record numbers.  The best we’ve ever had,“ she says.

"Downturn Dating: Hearts Flutter as Markets Stutter" (Associated Press)

Credit the recession for "staycations" and bringing us more game-night parties at home. But also give it a shout for spurring more first dates.

Economic woes, it seems, unleash something practically primal in many of us who find ourselves without a partner: a hard-wired desire for companionship.

Some singles are now hunting for dates with the same fervor others are showing hunting for jobs. On matchmaking Web site, membership is up 20 percent despite monthly fees of up to $60, and activity has soared 50 percent since September at

It’s not just the frequency of our dates that’s changing — it’s also the people we’re choosing to spend time with.

"They’re looking for something that’s genuine in a world that isn’t very secure," said Bathsheba Birman, co-founder of the Chicago dating event Nerds at Heart. "With headlines full of why you can’t trust established institutions that you thought you could … people are re-examining their own values."

Attendance at the monthly gatherings, where mostly young professionals pay $25 for a drink and a chance to spend the evening clustered around trivia and board games — was more than double expectations in April and has stayed high since.

"Misery loves company, especially if the prospect of romance and or sex looms large," said Craig Kinsley, a neurologist at the University of Richmond. "Really, dating, rather than being considered as expensive, can be a thrilling and inexpensive distraction. Like getting drunk without the wallet-hit or hangover."

Arts and entertainment on the cheap:

"Business Is Booming for Artists at Summer Festivals" (KVAL)

EUGENE, Ore- Several artists at the festival said they don’t have stores and sell most of their work online. But during the summer many travel from city to city selling their artwork at festivals.

They said traveling to festivals gives them an opportunity to showcase there talent with others.

“The opportunity to come out and interact with people, show them my work and get feedback helps inform the next piece. It lets me know what I’d like to create next,” said Jason Johnston.

Johnston does bronze cast figurative work. His sculptures feature sports figures and represent the human condition. He said business has been good for him during the recession.

“Last weekend I was in Lake Oswego just outside of Portland and as far as I could tell there is no recession in Lake Oswego. All the artists were doing great,” said Johnston.

"Gaming and Used Sales Boom During Recession, Says Nielsen" (PC World)

Time spent playing games and used game purchases are up, and in fact way up over the past several months, says the Nielsen Company. Citing a new study that gauged game playing and purchasing habits during the recent recession, the media audience tracker said the number of hours gamers claim to be engaged is at an "all time high," while the purchase of used games and video game rental service have both increased to "record-breaking" levels since tracking began in 2006. The conclusion? When it comes to entertainment, consumers are opting to get more from, well, more.

"Recession’s Upside: Family Game Night" (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Many parents are cutting spending on vacations and lavish toys, but spending more on board games for home

At Katie Pugh’s house, the kids don’t ask to play Guitar Hero or watch yet another princess movie after the family eats dinner.

Instead, her 6-year-old son, Jake, and 3-year-old daughter, Josie, are thrilled to play a board game before bedtime.

"They’re way into it," Ms. Pugh said. "They ask for it every day."

So the Pughs break out Chutes and Ladders, Hullabaloo or Guess Who? at least three nights a week — and sometimes during the day, too, said Ms. Pugh, a third-grade teacher in the Steel Valley School District. During her summer days at home in Munhall, a board game can be an easy alternative to messy arts and crafts projects.

"It’s a low-energy, quick-cleanup, fun way to spend your time together that allows you to talk through things and get some educational value out of it," said Ms. Pugh, who started playing Cranium Hullabaloo, a color- and shape-classification game, with her son when he was about 18 months old.

Like the Pughs, many families with young children have begun embracing what was a tradition in their parents’ and grandparents’ homes: family game night. Hemmed in by financial pressures, many parents are cutting spending on takeout, movies, vacations and lavish toys, but are spending more money on board games they can play with their children at home.

The toy industry has seen spending drop by nearly 2 percent since April 2008 — with youth electronics and vehicles showing particularly steep drops of 12 percent and 13.5 percent, respectively. But sales of board games have increased by nearly 5 percent during that period, according to researchers at The NPD Group.


"Recession Is a Boon to Image Consultants" (Democrat and Chronicle)

Three years ago, Paula Vullo sold her business and went back to school.

She got a master’s degree from Rochester Institute of Technology, but as she was getting ready to re-enter the work force, the economy tanked and suddenly jobs were scarce.

Wanting an edge, she called image consultant Cindy Kyle.

“I had a few friends comment on my hair, that it had grown out really long, and I never paid much attention to color and how to put accessories together,” said Vullo, who previously owned the Hospitality House, a banquet hall in Penfield.

“I knew some people that (Kyle) was coaching and I heard she had some success stories, and I thought: ‘Gee, I need a different approach.’”

A tough economy means more well-qualified people like Vullo are looking for jobs, and some of them are calling image consultants. Kyle said the portion of her business that deals with individuals has increased 50 percent, and other image consultants have also seen a boom among their individual clientele.

"Recession Camp: You Didn’t Sign Up for This" (KOMO)

SEATTLE— To attend Recession Camp, you don’t need a permission slip from your parents, or your name sewn into your underwear.

The free and cheap daytime activities are designed to bring summer camp-style socializing to unemployed adults.

“The point is to get people away from their PCs and the stress of job searching for awhile and do some relaxed, low-key networking,” said organizer Maryse O’Neill.

O’Neill is a job-seeker, too. In May, the day after she was laid off from her job in IT management and process improvement, she asked her friend Andy Brenner, who started a Bay Area recession camp in 2001, if she could follow his lead.

“I wanted to do something that wasn’t those stressful networking sessions where you’re marching around, doing your elevator speech,” O’Neill said.

Instead of name tags and no-host bars, recession campers have met with their dogs for walks at Greenlake and Marymoor Park and gathered for a free architecture tour sponsored by the Seattle Architecture Foundation.

The Foundation offered the tour as a sort of “dress rehearsal.” Tour organizers got to work out the kinks, and participants got to go for free. Future events include a trip to hear a free lunchtime concert downtown, and whatever other campers want to organize.

O’Neill, who describes herself as a natural networker, said she has gotten two job interviews through Recession Camp connections, which she promotes through LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. She’s also collected contacts for other people and believes that cooperating, rather than competing with fellow job-seekers, builds “networking karma.”


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