January 12, 2008

Walking Through A Recession

News on Wall Street this week was grim. After a few dramatic sessions on the stock exchange, talk of a looming recession grew louder in the mass media and on the campaign trail. In New York, luxury retailers like Tiffany reported soft holiday sales, and Starbucks is losing the coffee market to fast food giants. I'm concerned that the city will see a noticeable decline in visitors from the domestic US market, and it's clear that the New York tourist industry has shifted its marketing already to visitors from other countries. Many businesses will suffer from the ripple effect of a recession, even in New York.

What ever shall we do? What types of businesses and activities are recession-proof? Historically, the liquor business and movie theaters have been known to fare well during economic downturns. Money is tight, so a beer at a bar and a movie ticket ($6 + $12 = $18) would be more affordable than a prix fixe dinner and a Broadway show ($75 + $80 = $155), for example. Looks like the culture of the 1930s to me.

Personally, I would like to recommend walking as a way to get through a recession. It's free and fun (when you get the hang of it) and much cheaper than gasoline. For many, walking may become a necessity. In my recent attempts to pace out 10,000 steps a day, I find walking also to be time-consuming, a fact that shouldn't bother the unemployed.

Thanks to the colonel, who presented me with several vintage walking books for Christmas, I have learned that during the Great Depression, many Americans, through no choice of their own, reconnected with the pleasures of walking. Here's the Introduction of The Pleasures of Walking, edited by Edwin Valentine Mitchell, from 1934 (illustration here is also from the book) :

"When I remarked to a friend that I was engaged in compiling an anthology on the subject of walking, he said, 'I suppose the depressed state of the world has made walkers of a great many people who a few years ago were almost in danger of losing use of their legs. It's odd, when you stop to think of it, that because of the harshness of the times and the fact that shoe leather is cheaper than gasoline a lot of people have been driven to the discovery that walking is among the most rewarding pleasures of life.'
See? I see a great age of walking ahead of us.

For commentary on the recent Wall Street worries see the special walk, Walking Off the Wall Street Bears.

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