Signs of "green shoots" after all?
A quick sift through recent news reports reveals an interesting -- albeit largely anecdotal -- trend: businesses and sectors that cater to "escapism" in its various forms seem to be holding their own or are, in some cases, thriving, despite -- or, perhaps, because of -- the intense financial pressures being felt elsewhere.
Here are a few examples:
"Bartending Means Quick Cash in Recession" (KVUE.com)
Bartender training programs see rise in enrollment
Some say alcohol is recession proof and bartending schools are finding that to be true. Bartender training classes have seen a spike in enrollment during this recession. Rachel Burdett, owner of the Professional Bartending School of San Antonio Inc, says they have seen their highest enrollment in their ten year history.
"Romance Novels Thriving in Tough Economic Times" (Associated Press)
Love may not conquer all in real life, but its power in relatively inexpensive books is quite a comfort in this economy. Publishers are seeing strong sales in the romance genre as other categories decline and consumers cut back on spending.
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd., a global giant in women's fiction, reported fourth-quarter earnings up 32 percent over the same period a year earlier, with U.S. retail sales up 9 percent in 2008.
For the week of May 10, romance book sales overall were up nearly 2.4 percent compared with the same week last year, according to Nielsen BookScan, which covers 75 percent of retail sales. Travel book sales were down 16 percent, detective/mystery and self-help were each down 17 percent and adult fiction overall, of which romance is a subgenre, was up 1 percent.
Jennifer Enderlin, associate publisher for St. Martin's Press, said romance is doing so well, the publisher is releasing 32 titles this year (more could be added), compared to 26 last year.
"Anyone Can Learn to Sing in Key, Experts Say" (New Brunswick Business Journal)
Recession-weary adults are battling the blues by learning to sing them - along with musical theatre, classical, sacred, folk and popular music - via lessons with community choirs, where it's as much about camaraderie as crooning.
"Broadway Beating Recession" (Reuters)
Broadway theatres defied the recession to post record ticket sales in the 2008-09 season in what the Broadway League attributed to a need for escapism.
The trade association representing theatre owners, operators and producers said in the 12 months to May 24, paid attendance on Broadway in New York was 12.15 million tickets, slightly lower than the 12.27 million the previous season.
But producers still managed to raise gross takings by $6 million, or 0.6 per cent, to $943.3 million, beating the previous record set in the 2006-07 season of $938.5 million.
"As we have proven, if you put on a great show, people will come -- even in the midst of an economic downturn," Broadway League executive director Charlotte St. Martin said in a statement.
"Research has shown that theatre provides escape from everyday life and especially during these tough times, we have given the audiences a reason to see a show."
"Music Lovers Pack Halls, Drown the Money Blues" (The Boston Globe)
To save money and make a dent in his debt, Justin Ordman, 26, of Allston is forgoing road trips with friends. Donna Conway, 48, of Malden has put the kibosh on shopping sprees. Cheryl Tong, 51, of Revere is eating out less.
One thing none of them is willing to give up, however, is going to see live music.
"You might not remember a dinner you had two years ago at a restaurant, but you'll remember a good show 20 years from now," Ordman said before heading into the House of Blues recently to check out pop group 3OH!3.
The packed clubs and concert halls across the country make it clear they're not alone. Despite belt-tightening and layoff fears, the live music industry is thriving.
"2008 was a decent year for the concert business despite everything that happened," says Gary Bongiovanni, editor-in-chief of concert industry trade publication Pollstar. "What we've found as we've moved through this year is that fans are still buying concert tickets, and the high-profile tours that went on sale early in the year have done fine."
While attendance in North America was down 2 percent in 2008 compared with 2007, it was a much less steep decline than the 20 percent slide that took place between 2007 and 2006. And concert revenues actually increased by 8 percent last year after a 10 percent decline the year before.