Is the floundering U.S. economy hurting local businesses? It depends who you ask. Business owners admit the economy has had some negative effects on them—their cost of living has increased along with everyone else's. But many say their sales haven't dropped. Others haven't been so fortunate.
Times are especially tight for two Albuquerque establishments whose business is music. Owl Green music store owner Noelan Ramirez and Krazy Kat Records co-owner Charla Stange say business has been far from ideal over the last year. Ramirez says sales have dropped about 70 percent in the last four months. As a result, Ramirez says he's had to work two other jobs to make ends meet. "The economy has affected my business a lot," Ramirez says.
Stange has owned Krazy Kat for 25 years. She will collect Social Security in the fall and says she doesn't need to turn a profit to survive financially. But Stange says her business is affected when regulars spend less than they used to. "I've got one customer who used to buy DVDs, and now he's buying VHS tapes," Stange says. "There's another guy who's now buying tapes for a dollar or two dollars, instead of used CDs for five to seven dollars."
Stange says she worries about new business owners trying to survive in today's economic climate. "It's very tough right now," Stange says. "Not to sound like a pessimist, but I don't think I'd do it again if I was starting out right now."
Stange opened an outlet store next to Krazy Kat. Nothing in the outlet store costs more than $5, and Stange says she hopes it will attract customers who don't have a lot to spend. "People are paying more for gas and food, but they still want entertainment," she says. "We're making it affordable for them."
Ruby Shoesday shoe and clothing boutique is closing in August, but its owner, Jackie Gonzales, says her decision to shut the doors has nothing to do with the economy. Other interests are pulling her away from the business. Gonzales knows that times can be tough, but she says businesses have to learn to take the good with the bad. "You have to roll with the punches," Gonzales says. "You have to hang in there, because things will get better. They always do."
The Grove Café and Market co-owner Lauren Greene says her business is doing just fine. Though the cost of food has gone up, Greene says she hasn't increased prices since January. The same number of customers are coming through her doors, and Greene says she still buys the highest quality of food. "I feel like we've been very lucky and fortunate," she says. "Our business has been holding steady, which is amazing in this economy."
Keif Henley, co-owner of the Guild Cinema, says he hasn't noticed any direct effects of the economy on his business. "It certainly can't help anyone that gas is so damn expensive," Henley says. "But business has been pretty good."
Henley says the economy has made him a bit pickier about which films he brings to the Guild. The film that's showing has more of an effect on business than anything else, he says. "It's almost conventional wisdom that in times of depression, people want entertainment."
Downtown Ink tattoo artist Patrick Wihl has noticed that many of his customers are dealing with financial hardship. The number of clients hasn't dropped, but Wihl says it takes longer for people getting large tattoos to have them completed. Big tattoos can be expensive, and paying for them all at once can be difficult. Because he knows getting tattoos is a luxury, Wihl has tried to work with his customers to make sure business stays strong. "I'm willing to do tattoos for a little bit less than I normally would, just so people will do it," Wihl says. "We're trying to make our prices very fair."
For some businesses, money is always hard to come by, regardless of what the economy is doing. Blake Driver is a co-founder of the Verb Collective art space, which closed in June. Driver says a lack of funds was one of the reasons Verb closed, but it wasn't the main one. "Verb actually has felt very little of the effects of the faltering economy," Driver says. "We never had any money in the first place, so we're accustomed to living hand-to-mouth."
In general, businesses aren't faring too badly, according to Larry Smith, vice president of public policy and communications for the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce. Smith says this year the chamber has taken part in 16 ribbon cuttings, which happen when a member business celebrates its anniversary or a new one opens up shop. That's about on par for an average year, Smith says. "We've seen some anxiety about the economy," he adds. "But they're just being more careful, and I think you'll see businesses tightening their budgets."
Rebecca Dakota, executive director of the Albuquerque Independent Business Alliance, tells a different story. She says she's noticed the economy negatively affecting local establishments. This is especially true, she says, when it comes to customers' discretionary spending. "I think people are going out to eat less," she says. "They're probably spending less on clothing and other things we can get by without for a little while."
The chamber and the alliance try to help members deal with tough times through networking opportunities. Many businesses will offer discounts for fellow members, and often establishments can trade services with one another. Dakota says educating business alliance members about the benefits of online sales is also important. As gas prices increase, she says, consumers are doing more shopping over the Internet, and businesses need to adjust accordingly. "Things are definitely shaky right now," Dakota says. "We see our role as helping our members survive the hard times in any way we can."