22 February 2009

What's Good About Recession

In the midst of gloom and a growing sense of despair, there are, as always, silver linings, albeit small, if one pays close attention. For those of who have jobs and perhaps a bit of money in the bank, this recession offers considerable opportunities to soothe the anxiety within while also making a contribution to the collective good. There is some good in recession… consider these.

Friday night, 6:30 PM, a table at Cheesecake Factory can be had without waiting. That’s likely true at many favorite places, but it’s especially astonishing at this usually bustling bistro.
And, they have introduced a “Small Plates and Snacks” menu from which, because this chain doesn’t understand truly small plates, a lovely meal can be had at a very modest price.

In fact, at least a half a dozen fine restaurants in Laguna Beach, and I’m certain elsewhere, have either adopted [Sorrento Grille, Tabu Grille] or expanded [the always wonderful K’ya] their own small plates menu, or some version of that, as well as local’s night where one might dine at a considerable discount, and longer “Happy Hours” with extended appetizer menu’s. Creative marketing should be rewarded, and, while you’re enjoying really good food on a discount, you are also contributing to the economy, keep that in mind.

Capitalism, like it or not, is largely dependent on consumption, and all the stimulus packages on earth won’t work unless we go out and buy, preferably within our means, and ensure that businesses stay open, even if earning more modest margins, and employment doesn’t totally fall apart, which is perhaps the greatest danger we face right now. So those who have, even a little, get out and share, and at the same time, stave off the doldrums of these crazy times.

Everything is negotiable right now. Well, almost everything. Gasoline is not negotiable, although perhaps it should be, and utility prices not so, again, something for consideration. But purchases not controlled or fixed are up for grabs. I heard a story today of a shopper at Nordstom’s who told the sales manager that he really loved a certain jacket and would be happy to purchase it at half the ticket price, and the sales manager was smart enough to close the deal. Even at smaller margins or even at cost, better to move the merchandise. Smart business people understand this. My own landlord offered to reduce my rent to stay another year, or even more of a reduction if I chose to move just down the street to another of her properties that doesn’t as a rule rent as quickly as my place. I imagine many landlords or home-sellers are open to offers right now.

One of my neighbors manages mall properties and told me that any tenant who comes forth with a request for a rent reduction or a pass on a month or so, is considered honorable, and thus accommodated, while those who simply don’t answer the phone or ignore repeated rent reminders will be booted. Seems to me the banks might have considered such a move with their lenders in the hopes that over time everyone might make good.

It’s the Baileys versus the Potters all over again in this not so wonderful life. And yet, there remains so many wonderful options and opportunities if only we get out instead of hold back.

I had hoped that Obama might ask us all to do more in the sharing. Landlords reducing rent, bankers reducing mortgage terms, employers asking employees, as Governor Arnold aksed, to take a couple of days off each month without pay, rather than lose their jobs. Surely we might reduce hours at the library or the state park rather than shutter the doors? We can live without postal service one day a week. We can demand that CEO’sfreeze their wages and eliminate bonuses. Why don’t we re-embrace a day set aside for families and save everyone money by making retail a six day a week operation, so that everyone might rest and restore themselves the way we used to, not so long ago [anyone else old enough to remember most stores closed on Sundays?]

Perhaps we might turn off the television [and the computer] one night each week to gather instead with family and friends, and save a little electricity, to save money and help save the planet. Organize neighborhood picnics to share what we have with each other and begin to remember what matters most. That might be a real bonus of the downturn.

What’s good about recession in the end is that we might all learn to live with a little less, and limit the slaughter of some at the hands of others, and perhaps all come to a new place where greed is replaced by restraint and a sense of responsibility to each other. In the meantime, enjoy the perks.

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