Monday, March 23, 2009

City Life

Struggling To Benefit From Financial Stress
By Thomas Ford

The thought of any person or business actually benefiting from the current economic crisis and the subsequent debt of struggling Americans is repulsive to most people. But what many do not realize is that those who are now benefiting were not too long ago the ones struggling to stay afloat in this time of severe financial difficulty.

It was just ten months ago that Tamara Strickland, 37, was on the brink of filing for bankruptcy. Her house payment had skyrocketed from $1,500 a month to about $4,800/month. With two children, a new Lexus and new Escalade, money was running low. “(My husband and I) stopped paying on our credit cards in order to maintain our mortgage and the household bills,” says Strickland, a Silver Spring, Maryland native. “We were scared of losing our house.”

Advised by her parents, she and her husband filed for bankruptcy on all of their credit cards. They felt defeated and helpless until their lawyer came up with an idea to salvage their wellbeing by covertly exploiting the current financial crisis. “Our lawyer threatened our mortgage company that we were going to include the house (when filing for bankruptcy),” says Strickland. The mortgage company, frightened by the amount of money they would have lost if Strickland and her husband had filed bankruptcy on their house, “…reduced [their] mortgage payment (by) $1,700.”

Although, their financial situation has seemingly returned to period in their lives when times were much better, she advises others: “If you can help it, do not refinance your house numerous times. That’s what got us in trouble in the first place.”

Thrift stores, like Housing Works are attracting new customers
that may be around for the long-term.

Achieng Radier, a 19 year-old resident of New York City, fortunately does not have refinancing in her track record, but she has surely felt the weight of America’s tense financial situation. Says Radier, “My mother got laid off in November of 2008. In my (hometown, Poughkeepsie, New York), a lot of the small businesses have closed. Even the small gyms have closed. Mom and Pop stores are gone. There really isn’t anything new opening (besides) huge chains or department stores.”

Radier has actually found refuge in these department stores. She has been taking advantage of many of them dropping prices on goods because so few people can afford them. “This is the best time to buy,” she says. “If you have money to buy things at the price that they are now, you just won’t need them when the prices go back up because you’ll have already purchased them for the same value just at a lesser price.”

Later, with a smile, Radier admits that she recently bought a Ralph Lauren sweater, valued at $98 for just under $40. A sophomore at City College of New York, Radier says that it is easier than people think to benefit from the state of our economy right now. “Just keep a look out for good sales,” she jokes.

Sales are popping up everywhere—from upscale boutiques on Fifth Avenue to small electronic stores in Times Square, and to thrift shops that permeate New York City, and particularly Housing Works Thrifts Shops. These shops are just one of the many faces of the Housing Works organization.

“(Housing Works) is actually a nonprofit,” says Melissa Carter, a 27-year old Brooklyn resident who is visual merchandiser for the thrift shops, located in Yorkville, the Upper East Side, the Upper West Side, Chelsea, Gramercy, Tribeca, the West Village, and Brooklyn. “All of our proceeds go to people who are dealing with two parallel issues: AIDS and homelessness.”

Unfortunately, they, too, have felt the effects of the current recession. Because everything in these shops has been donated, including the mannequins, it is difficult for them to prosper when people are not donating. And lately, that has been the case. Says Carter, “…people are donating less because they are getting rid of less. So, we’re down because our store is based off of donations.” She adds, “As far as the Gucci and Prada, we receive very, very less of that.”

Because so much less is being donated to the shops, Housing Works has had more sales than usual. “We’ve kind of dumbed down our prices a little bit,” says Carter. “We (also) have promotions, like three-dollar pants or fifty percent off on jackets and women’s suits.”

But even through all of this, Housing Works has, in a way, been able to take advantage of the current financial instability. Although they are not making as much of a profit as they once were, their sales have caught the attention of a lot of customers, especially working-class clients. There are presumably more people searching for sales and promotions now than there were before the recession.

So, when people hear of such low prices on such high-quality products, they tend to flock to these shops. In kind of a backwards way, Housing Works is creating a clientele that may not have necessarily known about them or been willing to feel as though they were compromising their integrity to shop at a thrift shop, had it not been for the recession. While the shops were once struggling and feeling the weight of the economic crisis, they have now been able to possibly attract long-term customers.

These thrift shops and a few people may be slowly getting back on their feet and can admit that at one point, times were tough and that they were struggling, but now, times appear somewhat brighter.


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