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The Cautious Consumer: Anecdotal Evidence From The Heartland


Like many others, evidently, I spent my 4th of July holiday at home, or at least very close by. What follows are my observations of what consumer behavior, here in Chicago, was like.


I normally listen to WBBM-AM radio (CNN), which among other things, provides traffic and weather “on the eights”. Starting from Thursday afternoon, through the weekend, traffic on all of the area freeways and Interstates was unusually light, excepting the occasional fender bender, which would a fairly short-lived traffic tie-up.


Exceptions to the above was inbound traffic from the northwest suburbs on Friday afternoon, which is actually fairly typical, as suburbanites come into the city for wining, dining, and entertainment. This weekend was the last weekend of the annual “Taste Of Chicago”, a very popular event featuring a large assortment of various restaurants and eateries selling “tastes” of their wares, in an effort to entice new customers to their establishments. Again, this is an event that draws a mostly suburban crowd, as most, if not all, of the exhibitors are known to denizens of the city.


It should be noted that this is not an especially “cheap” event. Excluding gas, but including parking, (admittance is free), its not at all difficult for a couple to spend $75-$100 for a couple of hours of tasting. Although I’ve not heard official estimates of attendance yet, I did hear that the amount of unsold food that gets donated to the Chicagoland Food Depository, after the close of the event, was up slightly from last year. A spokesperson for the depository allowed as how the food was great welcomed, and appreciated, due to skyrocketing demand.


I watched the fireworks from a 27th floor balcony of a high rise in the trendy River North neighborhood. Immediately to the west is a street lined with a vast variety of upscale restaurants. Normally, on a holiday evening, the traffic is at a crawl, as people jockey to find the all too scarce parking spots, or drop off their cars at the valet parking services employed by all of the restaurants.


Last night, however, the street was empty, save for a multitude of cruising taxicabs, searching for non-existent fares. Were it not for the cabs, I wouldn’t have surprised to see tumbleweeds rolling down the street. It was incredibly eerie!


This all seems to tie in with an ever increasing amount of empty storefronts that I see, as I drive around town. This is not limited to any particular economic strata, as my “day job” takes me through all sorts of areas, from the toniest, to those were one makes DAMN sure the car is locked, nothing of apparent value is left in clear view, and one would do well to avoid altogether after night fall.


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