Recession Steals Christmas – Grinch Unemployed

The U.S. is officially in a recession, and the financial stress may be hitting home this holiday season and hindering the usual buying habits of Christmas shoppers. Many employees at the local stores claim to be witnesses to a decrease in consumer spending, while others, though they anticipate selling to be harder, have yet to see their sales show any signs of difficult times.

National statistics reported by the Gallup Poll show that, on average, Americans are spending more daily than before Thanksgiving, but Americans report lower average anticipated spending on gifts this year than in any previous year in which the measure has been updated. Also, the number of Americans reporting that they are spending less than usual is higher this year.

The Columbia Mall appears empty despite the approaching holiday.
The Columbia Mall appears empty despite the approaching holiday.

Bloomsburg and the surrounding area may be very vulnerable to economic downturn – especially this one. Located in Bloomsburg is the Magee Reiter Automotive Plant. As of 2006, 586 people were employed at this location. In a community of just over 12,000 people, this car carpeting manufacturer serves as the community’s third-largest employer. These employees’ jobs will be directly influenced by the success or failure of the American automotive industry.

The region has also been an unsuccessful location for many stores, especially in the local mall where the selection of stores seems to change constantly. With the recent closure of KB Toys and Foot Locker and the substantial vacancies that have not been filled for years, it is a wonder whether an economic downturn and decreased consumer spending will lead more companies located in the area to weigh out the costs and benefits of their locations in the Bloomsburg Area.

Some employees at the Columbia Mall see the effects of the economic downturn. The night shift manager of the Mall Services station reported, “the nights have not been very busy.” He believes the traffic in the mall may have declined since last year. Meg Lahr, an employee at Bon-Ton, noticed less traffic this Christmas season as well, though she doesn’t solely blame the economy for the lack of turnout. “It might just be our mall,” she said.

Not all stores are feeling the strain, however. Fashion Bug, located on the shopping strip by Wal-Mart in the Buckhorn Plaza, has had promising sales so far this holiday season. The manager, Rebecca Lunger, said that the company has adjusted to the change in consumer spending by changing the way their stores run to make up for it. “We pushed our winter items like sweaters forward earlier,” she used as one example.

Working in the clothing industry is an advantage at this point, she described, because “luxury and novelty items are not doing so well right now.” People’s mentalities have changed to “if you don’t need it, don’t get it,” according to Lunger. Clothing can be a winter gift and can be considered a necessity which contributes to their steady sales.

If Black Friday is any indication of the coming shopping season at the store, the employees at Fashion Bug could be confident that their revised methods are working. Even though the company lowered Black Friday projections in anticipation of fewer shoppers, the store not only surpassed these projections but also surpassed last year’s sales as well.

“We opened up at 8am and had half of our day in by noon,” Lunger said. She reported that Wal-Mart, who had used such modified tactics as discounting merchandise earlier this year, had also done well this Black Friday.

Holiday decorations welcome Christmas shoppers at the Columbia Mall in Buckhorn.
Holiday decorations welcome Christmas shoppers at the Columbia Mall in Buckhorn.

Some stores on the strip did not have as much luck. The Shoe Dept, located between Fashion Bug and Wal-Mart, both of which reported good sales, did not have such positive results. Jamie Schirra, an employee of the Shoe Dept, said, “There wasn’t much foot-traffic. We had to cut some employees.”

Alex Martinez, a senior Bloomsburg University student, did not go shopping on Black Friday this year because she had to work. Her boyfriend, Carlos, however, went to the Steamtown Mall. “He said it was busy, but no one was carrying bags” she said, indicating that he believed few people had been purchasing items.

Zack Graybill, a senior at Bloomsburg University, reported that a factory laid off hundreds of people in his hometown of Kramer, located about 45 minutes southwest of Bloomsburg. “Many of my neighbors and friends are feeling constraints because of the layoffs at the factory” he said referring to the cabinet factor, Wood-Mode, located in Kramer.

Such factors as job security could affect the spending habits of local residents this holiday season, and many local stores are prepared for this decrease in consumer spending if they are not already witnessing it. The recession is stealing Christmas for many and leaving the Grinch, like many Americans, unemployed and hurting this holiday season.

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