Trends In A Down Economy

By Wayne Bell

ffw-feature-2-4-1-10Trends are a funny thing. They have a way of having a great sense of importance for about a half a minute and then before you know it, they’re gone.

In today’s economy, trends aren’t as plentiful as they used to be. Sure, there will always be the new and hot thing, but trends seem to be fewer and farther between. This has something to do with people making wise choices during the Great Recession. It’s hard for people to justify the hot new piece of clothing or the great new video game when it’s hard to pay the bills.

Futurist and author Faith Popcorn calls 2010 The Year of Lo-Co or local cocooning, when we’ll be focusing on our communities and “supporting those who support us.” In her report on 2010, she says we’re “tightening up, pulling in and reducing our radius.” She calls the local farmer the new local hero.

Northwest Arkansas seems to be following just what Popcorn has predicted. We’re seeing the locovore movement dig in here in Northwest Arkansas with the success and popularity of the many farmers markets in the area. (The Fayetteville Farmers’ Market opens Saturday on the Fayetteville square, by the way).

Here are some of the trends that are happening across the country as well as in Northwest Arkansas.

Going Lo-Co

Perhaps the one great thing about the current financial mess is that people have been flocking to local businesses. It’s not really the newest concept in the world, but at the end of the day, it helps our economy survive. In a time when even major restaurants and department stores with deep pockets are suffering, many local businesses are doing better than expected. People realize that when they don’t have as much to spend, it’s important to spend with locally owned businesses.

One could argue that the reason small stores in NWA are doing well is because of the fantastic variety that can be found here. Many locally owned businesses carry items that one previously had to go to a major city or to the Internet to buy a few years ago.

Many restaurants subscribe to the mantra: do what you do best. Locally owned restaurants are offering lunch specials and happy hour fare at reasonable prices. Several months ago I was skeptical when I heard that a restaurant was opening that served only grilled cheese sandwiches. But that restaurant, Hammontree’s, has proven me wrong. Sometimes there’s a waiting line for a table.

Exploring Hidden Talent

The down economy might also be the reason that adults are refining their skills and enrolling in more classes. There has been a huge enrollment boost at NorthWest Arkansas Community College, where I am an adjunct instructor. In the

past year, it has shocked me how many more adults there are in my classes. These are adults who may have lost their jobs or have decided that they want to brush up on their skills to become more competitive.

Additionally noncredit learning centers like the Fayetteville Adult Education Center have also seen spikes. You can take Spanish, photography and even grant writing at the center for a fraction of the cost of a university credit course.

Aside from traditional education classes, many people are taking craft classes. In NWA, you can find classes like floral arranging, cake decorating, scrapbooking, bookbinding, pottery and painting, just to name a few.

Not only do people want to improve their skills, they also want to escape. Many people work in jobs that have a fairly high stress level and it’s a wonderful escape to take a class, not because you have too, but because you want too.

The Staycation

I have long advocated that people take advantage of the wonderful places that are a short drive from Fayetteville, like Eureka Springs, Little Rock, Branson or Tulsa.

Every Valentine’s weekend my partner and I go to Tulsa. This year we piled into the car with our little dog Charlee, and went over on a Friday night. A nice supper at KEO and dessert at Caramel started off our relatively cheap weekend. On Saturday, we got our coffee at Shades of Brown before heading over to Wild Fork for lunch. A trip around Utica Square, Whole Foods and Petty’s finished our trip. The whole thing cost about $200 and was a fun weekend.

And, of course, you can vacation without going anywhere, aka the staycation. But here’s the problem with staying home … it can often become more of a job than your job. How many times have we all taken a Friday off to relax, only to be bogged down with projects at home? To have a true staycation, you must designate a specific amount of time to doing nothing or have a schedule of events in hand and stick to it.

If you really need a vacation, but don’t want to leave town, try a spa day. I know that this can sometimes be a bit pricy but it’s worth it. Plus, some of the many great local salons and spas offer packages for less than $50. You might think that’s a lot, but it is certainly cheaper than taking a spa weekend in Aspen or Los Angeles. After 30 minutes on the massage table, I feel recharged and ready for battle in this tough world.

Spend Wisely, Enjoy What You Have

Currently, there is a trend toward quality over quantity. Consumers are purchasing slightly better items that will last through many seasons and whims.

For those items that you truly need and must get at a big box store, spend wisely. The big trend now is living with what you have. After a period of prolonged spending on extravagances, people are now finding ways to live with less and learning to stretch what they have.

A perfect example would be clothing. Instead of buying a bunch of cheap crap, buy a great pair of black slacks and a white button-down shirt. Yes, they may be expensive, but they will last you season after season, trend after trend.

Living frugally and enjoying life is a big trend right now. Instead of blowing hundreds on drinks and a night on the town, consider doing a craft project or having a game night. Our friends often come over to play games, watch movies and do crafts. It’s affordable and fun. You can look no further than a Google search to see how many blogs are out there about cooking, game and craft parties.

In the end, we can enjoy the trends of today without breaking the bank. By truly embracing the simplest trends, we can have fun with very little.

Categories: Features