Wednesday, April 27, 2005

What is really going on?

According to George Bush and Alan Greenspan, the economy is on a roll. In fact, the economy is doing so well, he has hiked interest rates about 5 times this year. Just like in 2000, when he declared that there is 'irrational exuberance' and he couldn't understand why there was a stock market bubble and he needed to slow things down, so he did eventually burst the bubble. If he is such a free-marketeer, why doesn't he just leave things alone?

But I think there is a big disconnect between what the government is telling you and what is really going on in the real world.

As I mentioned, I live in a 'well-heeled' neighborhood in Northwest Las Vegas that prides itself on being a cut above the rest (read snobbish). When I first moved here, I bought my house (which I no longer own) for 112K. Now the 'average' cost of a single family home is about $150K and the 'average' two story is about $300K. According to our neighborhood magazine, the residents of Summerlin (a 'master planned' community) spend more on health care, health club memberships, clothes and other things than the rest of the city.

When I moved back to Las Vegas almost 3 years ago, I had the intention of opening a tea house, in an attempt to cash in on the health benefits of tea. First, however, I decided to observe what was going on in the neighborhood before I took the plunge.

Last year, I was a 'regular' at a neighborhood deli, operated by two long time Vegas residents, Guy and Laurie Nason. They opened a New York style deli in Tucson Plaza nearest my old home. Tucson Plaza is a drive-in strip mall, anchored by Taco Bell, Jack in the Box and Walgreens.

Guy served meals, breakfast and lunch at first, which he later made an attempt at opening for supper. He also sold deli meats and he looked the part of a New Jersey butcher ("I got your meat right here"). His store was located behind Walgreens away from the main drag, Lake Mead Boulevard. He was located a very short distance from Sun City Summerlin, a major retirement community where golf carts are allowed for transportation.

He started off well, but when the war started, the elderly stayed home to watch the bombing of Baghdad. They never came back. Guy used a strobe light to attract attention to his business, sent out coupons in the mail and even started deliveries via golf carts. He even invited Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman a forum for a meet and greet the mayor. He was closed within the year.
When he put the place up for sale, he had a few lookers but no takers. The place is closed still, after more than a year.

At the high point, he opened a second deli across the street from Sunrise Hospital that was only open for lunch. I thought he was being overly ambitious, in view of the fact that his flagship wasn't doing that well. Perhaps it was location, location, location, since although he was listed on the marquee out front, you couldn't see the store as you drove by. Although, obviously, you could easily see Taco Bell and Jack in the Box which were near the boulevard.

I also frequented Walgreens and knew a lot of the employees. Yet, I never saw them eating at the deli. I was told by a fellow diner that the employees made minimum wage and therefore could not afford to eat out everyday, so they brown bagged it. I used to see a few contruction workers, groundskeepers and cable guys eating at Taco Bell, but never at the Deli.

Aside from me, Guy's 'clientelle' included a couple of snow birds from New Hampshire (who returned up North in the Spring) and the employees from a hairdresser shop next door.

Next door to the deli was the Orchard Market. I used to go in there to play video poker, (I won about 3 Royals there) but I didn't buy much in the way of fruit because it is only me. But the Orchard Market depended on the deli, because when Guy ran out of lettuce or tomatoes, he'd send his son Chris over to buy more. Once the deli closed, so did Orchard Market. Today, it too, is still vacant.

I walk all over the neighborhood even in summer heat. I used to be a regular at the barber shop that was at the front of Tucson Plaza, but that too is gone. They claim there was not enough walkin traffic.

Since then, the developers have een buiding a group of 'condo offices' for professionals like dentists and lawyers. Since I was last there, the offices have been built, but there are no takers.

After I sold my house and moved a few blocks away, I became a 'regular' at Vons Center which is closer. Vons Center is bigger, anchored by Vons Supermarket, has a few restaurants, a bank, video store, a few other small businesses and a Starbucks. Starbucks pretty much is the closest thing to a Village Square, since you see the same people there everyday and on Sunday's you'll see entire families, elderly after church, mothers pushing baby carriages, kids on skateboards and people walking their dogs. (Dogs are welcome). It has a larger volume of foot traffic.

Nevertheless, one Sushi place that struggled (was directly next to a Chinese fast food place) and has finally closed, which will be replaced by a Ben and Jerry's. A small knick Knack shop did not survive. Benedicts, a restaurant that replaced the original Italian reataurant (which also didn't surviver) didn't make it either. Benedict's tried to position itself as an 'upscale' eatery with a weekly dinner show for $45 (cheaper than the Strip). it lasted less than a year. I went in there once or twice, but wasn't about to spend $7 for breakfast oatmeal. Across the street from Starbucks was the Black Angus, a chain of steak houses. They would advertise coupons for lunch, which I often took them up on and half off meal coupons. A filet mignon, Australian lobster tail and desert for two, $17. And that's half off. Being from New England, Australian Lobster Tails can never compete with a real lobster tail from Maine. But the Black Angus didn't survive either. I think it had a lot to do with the fact that the Rampart Casino has coupons for two for one buffets.

We had our twice yearly Art Walk at Vons Center last week. I attended the previous ones and bought one picture, a quilt and an antique bank made from real Post Office box. I was told my a few business owners that there was an increase in foot traffic, but I thought the crowds were smaller. Also, I noticed a lot few exhibitors. None of the vendors that I have bought things from in the past were there (in fact, last year, the vendor remembered me). Is this due to the high cost of gas that has kept out of state vendors from attending this year, or is it because the neighborhood residents are 'house rich, but cash poor"?

In any event, where is this expanding economy that the Administration keeps touting?


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