With the economic crisis still lurking in the shadows, downtown Eugene’s locally owned businesses are finding new ways to cope with changing consumer spending habits.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Lane County unemployment rate was at 12.2 percent in September of this year, (2.4 percent above the national average) causing Eugene residents to cut back on luxury purchases and extracurricular activities.
Jay Shepherd, one of the few full-time employees of Brushfire, a local do-it-yourself ceramic and glass studio, is concerned with the lack of business her employer has experienced as of late:
“By November in the past we are seeing people coming in for the holidays; Come December we can’t keep open tables or stay open long enough.”
But Brushfire remains nearly empty, and the store has been forced to be creative as well as optimistic. Since the small store counts on the holidays to do its bulk of business, they have decided to stay open seven days a week for extended hours in anticipation of holiday painters. Monthly email newsletters are sent out with discount coupons, and the store’s Facebook page is updated two times per week. They have even considered painting and donating pieces to get their image out to the community.
Although Shepherd argues that it’s still too early to tell, she is nervous and concerned about the lack of business. The owners have just hired two new employees for the holiday season, but Shepherd feels that people are modifying their extracurricular activities even further, making the store’s family experience a last priority.
Footwise, a downtown shoe store, has also had to make adjustments for changing consumer habits. According to Footwise employee Sarah Ball, it was last fall that the store started feeling the affects of the recession, once the media made it an ongoing, publicized concern.
But now Footwise is seeing an increase of customers on a steady basis, which Kathleen Tyson, the store manager, chalks up to the nature of their shoes.
“I think people are willing to spend a little bit more on something that’s going to last,” says Tyson. “They see the value in the longevity of the product.”
Though they expect a lot more traffic over the holiday season, they have cut down on high-end items. The shoe store no longer carries $400 boots, or some brands that didn’t make the cut from last year’s sales.
While activities and clothing stores have been forced to adjust to the changing financial environment of downtown patrons, food and alcohol sales have experienced little change.
Bagel Sphere, a local coffee and pastry shop, hasn’t seen any noticeable change in sales or foot traffic. Terry Duback, an employee of the shop since last December, attributes the success to the affordability, ease, and quality of the food. If anything, she feels, the difference is in downtown – There’s not as many people around.
Similarly, Jameson’s bar has experienced no change in sales. “People still drink,” bartender Dawn Manley says.
What has changed is the amount of traffic at Eugene’s Public Library. Librarian Mary Kontny and assistant Jessi Stinson have noticed many people have canceled their home Internet subscriptions and have come to the library wondering how to get access. An increase in library accounts, circulation, and job search, computer skill and grant and resume writing classes, as well as access to Oregon’s unemployment department have also been apparent.
“I see the same people staying here long hours every day, either working or needing a place to hang out,” says Stinson.
The library’s free movies, music, books, wi-fi and electricity are enough to attract people of all ages, backgrounds and financial states in this time of economic recession. The large groups of people waiting outside the library’s doors before it opens every morning are surely a sign of the times.