Friday, November 21, 2008

And at the local diner...

There is one diner in our small well-off suburban town. There's one movie theater, one of those relics with the 1950's style semi-circular marquee with hand hung letters. Add a few butcher shops, delis, pizza parlors, barber shops and nail salons, plus lots of bank branches and real estate offices, drug stores, a Starbucks of course and one variety store and that's the three blocks of downtown. It works and the center of the social action is the diner. That's a space with 12 seats at the counter plus about 12 booths. At breakfast and lunch it is invariably full, or had been.

There has been much written about the radical drop off in U.S. consumer spending in the last two months, an almost unprecedented decline in such a short period of time. Here's the story from the home front.

For various reasons, travel, cooler weather, and cholesterol watching, I had not been down the hill to the diner in several weeks. On Tuesday I stopped in for lunch at 12:30 expecting to look in and see that there would be a wait for a seat at the counter and if one was available it would be a no elbow room slot that made reading a newspaper challenging. I had the entire counter to myself. By 12:45 two other folks joined me and by 1:00 a couple of the waiters decided to have their lunch early. This was almost unbelievable. Today, Manhattan clam chowder day, I returned for both the chowder and to see if I was hallucinating a few days ago. There were a few more patrons but the place was still half empty(half full not being the appropriate slant these days). This kind of anecdotal observation is more powerful than any stats in the media. Ballad of a Thin Man territory.

This is a town where many people are relatively fortunate, but the diner crowd is the most democratic(not as in a political party but as in diverse)place around. Are people really foregoing their tuna on rye toast and cup of pea soup and saving a few bucks by eating at home. Are they just not in an especially social mood as they find reasons for good cheer a little harder to come by of late.

One of the pizza parlors closed last week. Isn't pizza recession proof. Watching investments decline is painful, oh so painful of late, but the expectation or hope is that patience will mitigate the impact over time. That might not be the case anytime soon if core local businesses are being so obviously affected. This is getting serious.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear J.,

Please keep up the diner report. If nothing else, you'll help this place muddle through. A downturn (splat) in the stock market must not brings an end to civilization.

8:25 PM  

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