When it comes to the slowing economy, Ellen Spero isn't biting her nails just yet. But the 47-year-old manicurist isn’t cutting, filing or polishing as many nails as she‘d like to, either. Most of her clients spend $12 to $50 weekly, but last month two longtime customers suddenly stopped showing up. Spero blames the softening economy. “I’m a good economic indicator”, she says. “I provide a service that people can do without when they‘re concerned about saving some dollars.” So Spero is downscaling, shopping at middle-brow Dillard’s department store near her suburban Cleveland home, instead of Neiman Marcus. “I don‘t know if other clients are going to abandon me, too.” she says.
All of this caused a crisis of confidence. Americans stopped taking prosperity for granted. They began to believe that their way of doing business was failing, and that their incomes would therefore shortly begin to fall as well. The mid 1980s brought one inquiry after another into the causes of America‘s industrial decline. Their sometimes sensational findings were filled with warnings about the growing competition from overseas.
Even before Alan Greenspan‘s admission that America’s red hot economy is cooling, lots of working folks had already seen signs of the slowdown themselves. From car dealerships to Gap outlets, sales have been lagging for months as shoppers temper their spending. For retailers, who last year took in 24 percent of their revenue between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the cautious approach is coming at a crucial time. Already, experts say, holiday sales are off 7 percent from last year‘s pace. But don’t sound any alarms just yet. Consumers seem only mildly concerned, not panicked, and many say they remain optimistic about the economy‘s long term prospects even as they do some modest belt tightening.