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Mixed bag of spending

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The weight of the falling economy has been slapping Charlotte in the face with unrelenting fury.

Several Q.C.-based companies have laid off hundreds of workers; Mecklenburg County and Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools face budget shortfalls; and the cash cow of the CIAA basketball tournament has tempered expectations for this year.

CIAA commissioner Leon Kerry recently told Creative Loafing that he's sure the current recession will affect the tournament this year.

"I'd be crazy if I said it wouldn't have any effect. But we have marketed and sold tickets and all of our sponsors were in place," he said. Even if the CIAA injects a huge shot of cash into the Charlotte economy, there is still uncertainty in the banking industry, with layoffs coming down the pike at Bank of America and Wachovia/Wells Fargo.

But there is some proof that a small pulse is throbbing through the economy. Some people are shopping -- spending money at local and national retail stores -- and others are even going one step further and opening new businesses ... while others shut their doors.

Bloomberg News reported in January that sales rose 1 percent for American retailers. Online and catalogue sales rose 2.7 percent in January, according to Bloomberg. This comes after a poor showing for holiday spending.

Charlotte resident Jonique Platts found herself in SouthPark Mall last week, adding a little cash to the economy.

"I have a job that requires overtime, so I have been working six-day workweeks," she said. But Platts made it clear that although she was shopping that particular day, she's made cuts in other areas to help ease the pinch of the economy.

"I have minimized everything. I don't have home phone service, DSL or anything even though I sell it," she said. "I don't have any of that."

In fact, Platts said her trip to the mall last week was the first time that she'd ventured out to shop since before Christmas.

"This is the first time I've been to SouthPark this year, and this is my old stomping grounds," she said.

Platts didn't have a huge amount of merchandise and what she did purchase was on sale. She said she snagged a $250 dress for $60. And after she spent $100, she was done for the day.

"This is it for me," she said as she headed toward the exit. "I have everything I need."

On the other hand, for every person still spending money, there's a retailer who can't seem to attract enough customers with disposable cash.

One Charlotte retailer, who didn't want to be identified, said the economy is "what you read in the paper and more."

The owner, who said he didn't want to let potential customers know how bad things are, said, "[Business] is not where it should be. When I'm standing here with 3,000 feet of stuff, and I can't give it away, that's pretty much the economy."

But while that anonymous owner struggles to stay in business, there are others who have opened up new businesses in spite of the economy. According to the Charlotte Chamber, 757 new businesses opened in 2008.

"The numbers show that Charlotte still continues to grow with a diversified economy," states the Chamber's end-of-the-year report. "The largest increase this past year was within the retail, health care, food service, and professional and technical services sectors. Manufacturing also increased by 44 firms, and despite the current state of the economy, Charlotte gained more than 80 firms in the finance and insurance industry."

Neophyte shopkeeper Paige McManus, owner of Denim Affair in south Charlotte, said she'd been planning to open her business for a year, before the economy went to hell in a hand basket.

"Are my finances where I projected them to be when I started the process? No. I do have a daily sales goal that I amended once I opened, and 80 percent of the time, I make my daily sales goal," she said.

Though money is tight for many people, McManus' success has a lot to do with the fact that she's serving a niche market. Her shop only sells jeans, she contended, because for women, jeans and swimwear are the hardest things to shop for.

Also, Denim Affair carries brands that you don't find in stores like Marshalls or the Home Shopping Network, McManus said.

Despite the fact that she opened her boutique during one of the worst financial times in history, McManus said her biggest fear wasn't the economy.

"My biggest fear," she said with a laugh, "was that people wouldn't love jeans as much as I do."


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