The New Frugality
Less jewelry, more bikes
by Vickie Elmer
"The truly high-end people are cutting back," says jeweler David Lewis.
At Two Wheel Tango, customers are forgoing expensive bikes--and buying new inner tubes and getting repairs, which are up markedly.
So it goes with Ann Arbor's new frugality and the way local businesses are adapting to it. With fewer people buying $4,000 bikes, Two Wheel Tango owner Dennis Pontius is working more hours, and he's asking for discounts and rebates from suppliers. "They're willing to cave in on it now," he says, giving him room to pass savings onto customers.
Lewis, owner of Lewis Jewelers on West Stadium, says that in Christmas seasons past, he might have sold seven or eight pieces in the $100,000-$150,000 range. Last year it was zero. "I think it has to do with people's net worth," he says. "It's gone down." Customers are still buying engagement rings and anniversary gifts for $5,000 to $10,000, but "we have to be far more aggressive in our pricing," says Lewis.
"The whole world's on sale right now," agrees Nina Howard, owner of Bellanina Day Spa & Boutique on North Fourth Avenue. To bring in clients during slow periods, she's been offering 15 percent off massage, skin care, and nail appointments.
At Everyday Wine in Kerrytown, "people are trading down," says owner Mary Campbell: customers who used to spend $20 or $25 are asking for a $12 bottle instead. At Ellsworth Liquor Shoppe, many people are buying "the cheaper brands," says owner Frank Soka, or buying less.
Lenadams Dorris moved to Ann Arbor from Las Vegas after developing health problems three years ago. There he owned a coffeehouse/art gallery and a four-bedroom home and ate at fine restaurants. Now he lives on his savings and disability payments and has a condominium at Geddes Lake, which he calls "an island of frugality surrounded by expensive homes." He's given up cable TV, shares broadband Internet access with his neighbor, buys clothes at thrift stores, and no longer has a car--"that saved an extraordinary amount of money," he says.
"Ann Arbor is a pretty good place to be poor," Dorris says. "I learned how to live frugally yet happily."
[Originally published in August, 2009.]