Friday’s Weekend Column
About a Minnesota Man Exploring Life in the South

Any Day Now
by James Glaser
November 21, 2008

That is what every shop owner I know is saying these days. "Any day now," the Christmas shoppers are going to start buying. Here is how bad it is getting. Yesterday, three advertising salesmen came to my gallery trying to talk me into buying ad space in their publications. That might not sound that strange, but until yesterday, I never had a person come in and try to sell me advertising in person.

One guy told me that his boss told him to "get out there and beat the bushes." I told them advertising isn't going to do it. People know where my shop is, and they know my hours, but people are not buying right now, and I don't blame them.

There is a small mall in the Midtown area of Tallahassee that I always thought would be a good location if I ever wanted to move my business. I was in that mall today, and there are four empty spaces with "for rent" signs in the window.

I don't think it is the location, the amount you advertise, the product you have, or the hours you keep, people are just not buying. In the past if "x" amount of people came into my gallery, a certain percentage would buy something. In the last few months that formula has stayed constant. However, even though I was having the same number of sales, the amount of money spent on the average sale was going down.

Now though, even the number of sales is going down. I have talked to people who have been in business for over a decade, and they talk about a whole weekend without a sale. Come January 1st, you are going to see a lot of businesses giving notice that they are shutting down. Right now is supposed to be the high sales months of the year, but people are scared. Many families are opting to buy gifts for the kids, but not for the adults. I sell adult gift items. People still come in, and they tell me they like the things I make, and the work of the other artists I have in the gallery. In fact many of these shoppers have bought things in the past, but now they are just shopping, not buying.

So, what do you do? You start thinking really hard. You think about how much time and work you have put into your place, and then you think about how long you can stay open when a good month is one that you break even. People who are supposed to be in the know are talking about a turn around sometime in 2010. That doesn't sound very good to me. I don't have anyone to lay off, and the City of Tallahassee, which owns the utility company, just raised all the rates. Railroad Square, the company that owns all the shops in the Art Park, just raised all the rents. It is like the city and the landlord are trying to force people into shutting down.

Most shop owners tell me that even with great December sales numbers, they won't be able to weather another year like this year, and most expect next year to be worse. So, "any day now," I expect those shoppers to start buying. I sure hope they buy enough of my stock, so that when I do shut down it won't be that hard to move.

Post Script:

This column does sound bad, but I have gone through hard times before, and I'll have my workshop to work in. People always need things repaired, and I do enjoy making sculpture and furniture. I'll just make things that are way more complicated, and that take more time and effort. Who knows, it might just be a very rewarding year or two before things turn around.

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