Sunday, June 28, 2009

Just to be clear....

Bend economic news is dire. We all know that.

I tend to think in terms of seasonality. As I've always said, I make money four months out of the year, lose money four months out of the year, and break-even four months out of the year.

So, if we miss out on the money making months, we have to endure the other 8 months. This is the problem with basing a town's economy on tourism.

Anyway, all this dire news is taking place at the BEGINNING of summer, which means the next two months are pretty much shot, also. Including June, that's three of the four good months gone. Then 3 slower months, then Christmas, and then another 5 slow months.

Which to me means, the Bend retail economy has almost no chance of recovery for the next year or so. I'm betting next summer won't be much better. Because the housing and building trades -- I'm pretty sure -- aren't going back up for a long time (anyone need a house built? A new hotel? How about a mall?), and the foreclosure crisis will be really zeroing in about then.

Don't let all the talk of green shoots fool you, we're are a long way from recovery. In fact, I think we're still a long way from bottom. Especially in Bend. We'll be hearing about the rest of the country picking up long before it happens here.

Yes, businesses are opening. And they are all whistling past the graveyard. 7 coffee shops in downtown Bend? No problem!

Don't get me wrong. I'd rather have these spaces full. But is it a sign of of success, or a willingness to gamble? A sign of opportunism? A sign, even, of desperation? For instance, I've noticed that some businesses are bailing out of smaller towns around us and relocating in Bend. Is that a sign of strength, or an acknowledgment that the small town thing wasn't working?

I think people are betting it all on downtown Bend, because it seems to be the only vibrant part of the city for small business. Which is true, I suppose. Where else are you going to go?

I guessed a couple of years ago, that the froth of downtown Bend's appeal might just bridge the economic gap. It'll probably be close. Two years from now, the shine will probably be tarnished a bit. But by then, there might be a few of those 'green shoots' for real.

I'm getting fairly high foot traffic, but a very small per-customer average. So I'm hitting my averages by working twice as hard, essentially. Turns out, filling my store with product was the right thing to do in this kind of atmosphere.

The empty parking spots are kind of interesting. So the only explanation for the foot traffic is that the retail around me has grown so much since the last time I kept customer counts, that even a slowdown doesn't bring it down to the old levels.

As I've said, this is a relatively easy slowdown for me to deal with -- I'm feeling amazingly confident -- compared to past situations. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I'm thankful for those experiences -- as bad as they were at the time -- because they trained me how to deal with this, and most importantly, I know what to expect emotionally and how that all plays out.

That's really important. How you deal with the disappointment, how you accept it, and still keep your equanimity. How even, you look for opportunities in the chaos.

I'm really bemused by all the business activity downtown, businesses closing and businesses opening almost as fast. Thankful for it, because it's fun to watch as it plays out. Some will succeed, some won't -- which isn't all that different from normal times, except maybe accelerated.

But business activity, none the less.

Far better than the alternative of empty storefronts.

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