Wednesday, April 22, 2009

For Anyone Who's Still a Bit Vague on How the Economy Collapsed...

South Park is here to explain it to you.

The foul mouthed cartoon, which never passes up an opportunity to make fun of the government, recently aired a hysterical episode parodying the real estate collapse. The episode's called "Margaritaville," and can be viewed for free here

Love 'em or hate 'em, you gotta hand it to creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone- they sure know their metaphors.

(For anyone who doesn't get the sarcasm- substitute the world "margaritaville" for house.)

But How Much for a Nail File?

A warm thank you to The Onion for reminding us that the recession is hurting everyone.


Travel Across Europe For $100 a Day?

I know, I know. It sounds too good to be true. But according to a blog post in today's New York Times, it's possible to do, thanks to the plunging value of the Euro and the leveling of the exchange rate.

Currently, the exchange rate is around $1.35 to the Euro- and if that sounds bad, then you obviously didn't travel abroad last year.  When I was studying abroad in Prague in spring 2008, the Euro peaked at $1.64- which put a serious dent on my travel plans in the last few weeks of the semester and forced me to place chagrined phone call (or two) home to the parents to wire me some money.

It's ironic that so many things are becoming decently priced just in time for no one to be able to afford them. It's a depressing cycle: gas prices are at their lowest in months, airline tickets have been slashed, luxury companies- from Coach to Versace- are having sales to get by (and trust me, they're not happy about it.) Time to start buying some scratch-offs...

Daily Deals from the Bargain Babe!

Although I probably shouldn't be posting about competing blogs, this one was too good to pass up: a woman known only as Julia has created a website on which she posts coupons, bargains, promotions, and countless other ways to save cash, all updated daily.

According to the website, Julia's mission statement is "to help you become a savvy-spender so you can take control of your finances and thrive during the recession." And it's working: the site's been featured in a variety of newspapers throughout the tri-state area, from NJ's Star Ledger to AM New York. Even Time Magazine mentioned her site in an online feature. 

The "bargain babe," who describes herself as a "cheapskate by nature and a journalist by training," features links to coupon and deal sites on her page, as well as several. Although the Babe is based in New York, many of her deals are applicable beyond the city- such as today's offer for a free reusable water bottle from any Disney store when you bring in three bottles to recycle. 

The site covers a wide variety of topics- from cheap dates ideas to bank promotions (apparently, Chase is offering $100 to anyone who opens a checking account...) so check it out if you're in a pinching penny phase. And let's face it... who isn't?  

Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

Talk about good timing.  The internationally popular game show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" will celebrate its 10th anniversary by airing all new episodes on ABC starting this August.

The show, which was canceled due to sluggish ratings in 2002, received a revival of interest after Slumdog Millioniare, a film about a impoverished Indian boy who grew up to win the game, won eight Oscars- including Best Picture.

(By the way, you don't have to be a fictional character in order to win the show: just ask this guy!)

The series attracted over 30 million viewers during its hey day in 1999, and I'm sure ratings for the August series will be equally as impressive.  With all the talk of layoffs and cutbacks surrounding us every day on TV, it'll be nice to take a break from reality and root for the average Joe trying to make a couple extra bucks.

I was unable to find updated information on how to become a contestant, but here's a website to brush up on your skills in case the opportunity arises.  An online simulation of the game is a great way to prepare for the real thing. (Hey...  you never know!)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

This is Why I Hate NYU Kids

At Which Point I Assume the Government Supplies You with a Personal Chef

NYU chick #1: What's the poverty level anyway?
NYU chick #2: I don't know, like $100,000 a year?

--NYU Dorm

via Overheard in New York, Mar 26, 2009

We're not all this bad... but I still want to apologize on behalf of my college.

And Now For Something Completely Different

My sister Meredith (seen above) was recently the subject of an NPR interview due to her outstanding work as a first year teacher in Washington, D.C. Check it out!


What a terrible time to be an NYU student.  According to an article in Fox 28, New York is considering a new tax on alcohol products- everything from the hard stuff to beer and wine.

Currently, New York's alcohol taxes are among the lowest in the country- about 60 cents lower per gallon of wine than the national average, according to an opinion piece in The Buffalo News. But doesn't the $2.75 tax on a pack of cigarettes more than compensate?

Modern Day Hoovervilles?

Click here to read a sobering article by The New York Times about the rise of "shanty towns"- makeshift homeless communities- in California.  New York will be seeing it next...

Can't Afford Public Transportation? Ever Consider a Scooter?

My last post on the MTA's ridiculous fare hikes has me considering my options. If you're like me and the subway will no longer be a viable option after May 31st, here are some more cost effective ways to get around NYC: 

1. Walking

I know, I know, I'm not exactly reinventing the wheel here.  And it's no surprise that New Yorkers are pretty used to walking.  But we all slack off a little, and sometimes the walk from 14 and Lex to 31st and Broadway can be daunting. But come on- do you really need to take the L train from 8th Ave to First?  The entire island of manhattan is only 13.5 miles long and 2.5 miles wide (approximate). Suck it up. Plus, you won't have to feel guil
ty about drinking that iced grande latte later. You've earned it- the cost and the calories.

And for those of us who wear high heels- just carry a pair of Old Navy flip-flops in your bag. Trust me. You'll want them later.

2. Taxi

When it comes to getting from Point A to Point B, I think every
 budget conscious New Yorker considers taxis as the ultimate money waster.  But when you're in a group, that's not always the case, especially with the new fare hikes. After paying an initial fee of $2.50 ($3.50 during peak hours)  taxis have a flat rate of 40 cents per 1/5 of a mile, or every 60 seconds that the car is idle.  Check hop stop for an approximate cost, and as long as you're not going to Penn Station at 5:00 on Friday, go ahead and wave one down.  With a couple of friends in tow, you'll most likely break even- and get to your destination faster.

3. Scooter

If you have no qualms wearing a business suit while riding a scooter, you can save a ton of money on your daily commute. A $40-60 dollar investment on can get you a pretty sweet Razor Scooter, designed to carry up to 143 pounds.  Remember, they're called scooters for a reason: those things can move.  And if you get embarrassed riding it, hey, at least it's not a segway.

4. Roller Blades
These are a little more pricey, but consider them a long term investment. Most rollerblades run from around $60-100, but you can get a decent pair for $40 if you look hard enough.  Just make sure to try them out in Central Park before taking them to the streets- learning to brake is an art.

5.  Bikes. (Not.)

Please, don't ride a bike in New York. Dozens of bicyclists die every year in NYC from traffic related injuries, and I've heard horror stories from friends who own bikes here.  If you do decide to use a bike, PLEASE look up bicycle-friendly streets (such as 5th ave) and buy a helmet.

$2.50 For A Single Ride, and Be Prepared to Wait: The MTA Price Hikes

For those of us who wince at spending $4 to take a trip uptown, I've got some bad news: the oft whispered, dreaded fare hikes are officially coming to a public transport near you.

According to an article in today's New York Times, public transport on buses and subways will increase to $2.50 a ride, up from $2, beginning May 31st.  The hikes will also affect tolls.   

But that's not all, unfortunately.  In addition to the hikes, 35 bus routes will be eliminated, as well as the Z and W trains, which may cause overcrowding in the already often packed trains. Service will also be significantly cut on off-peak and weekend hours, while buses and commuter rail will also see a marked decrease.

And if you're thinking of saving by getting a monthly pass, think again: monthly passes will go to a staggering $103 per month, up from $81.

The changes were voted in this morning, with 12 in favor and one opposed.  The Times reports, 
"Before the vote, the board heard from a parade of M.T.A. employees, transit advocates and city officials who criticized the fare hikes and service cutbacks that would affect a system that covers two-thirds of all mass transit riders in the United States. A number complained about how the cuts would disproportionately affect the middle class, who were already struggling in the city’s economic downtown." 

But the board members were unmoved- all except sole dissenter Norman I. Seabrook.

One reader, identified only as Alex, commented, "'Let's decrease service and make it more expensive for the handful of people who still have jobs to get to work. Brilliant!'"

I couldn't have said it better myself, Alex. 

A Quick Note: Adding Ads

You may have noticed that there are now ads on Recession Obsessions. Some might call that selling out, but hey, this is a recession themed blog, after all. Help out a broke college student and click on a couple! Every time someone clicks on an ad, I get that much closer to graduate school, so don't be shy! Click away. You know you're secretly interested in hoodies with pockets designed for beer. Very interested.

Seriously, though.  Thanks for reading! And clicking!


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Cheap Food Causes Big Problems.

...and big waistlines.

Cheap, unhealthy food (such as the entirety of McDonald's dollar menu) has been on the rise in America since the recession hit, according to this great article in CBS news. It's nothing you haven't heard before, but that doesn't make it any less depressing. Read the article, then have a salad! Don't be a statistic!

Would You Pay $25 For a Vibrating Movie Theater Seat?

That's a rhetorical question.  But it's one that D-BOX Technologies is attempting to answer with their trademarked rumbling theater seats, as a new (and unique) method of attracting theatergoers. The seats, which are already being tested in select theaters in Los Angeles and Arizona, are designed to move along with the action in a film.

According to the company website,

"Our completely new D-BOX Motion Code™ system, conceived for use within commercial theatres, adds a new dimension to your experience. It allows moviegoers to Live the Action onscreen with an unmatched realism. In other terms, the D-BOX Motion Code™ system creates movements: pitch, roll, heave, and intelligent vibrations – perfectly synchronized with the onscreen action."

While it is true that going to the movies is becoming more and more pricey- I just paid $12 to go see I Love You, Man last Saturday- I really don't think a restless chair is going to attract the public.  Just the words they use to describe it turn me off.  Pitching, rolling, and heaving.  Kind of sounds like a late night bout with the flu to me, but hey, to each his own.

But just in case you're interested, here's an example of the chair. (Note: this one was designed for a home movie theater, not a commercial one.)

Just imagine trying to eat popcorn in that thing. 

Need Some New Shirts for Spring?

Want some new threads but can't afford to spend $20 on a plain white tee from American Apparel? No worries: I know a website where you can get a new shirt for less than the cost of a Chipotle burrito (my standard unit of measurement). 

Intrigued? Go to, where the shirts come in a variety of colors and sizes, but they're all sold for the same price: six bucks. (Duh.) Or, you can stock up on witty apparel for the summer and get the recession special of 10 tees for fifty dollars. 

The t-shirts range from television topical

to political

to downright artsy

And I studied abroad last semester in Prague so I will definitely be adding this shirt to my shopping cart: 

Also, all the shirts are made right in the U.S. of A., so it's a great way to support the economy and look fashionable at the same time. Happy shopping!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Prince Offers New Three Disk Album for $11.98, Exclusively at Target

Prince's new albums, "LOtUSFLOW3R" and "MPLSoUND," as well as a third bonus album dubbed "Elixir," will be bundled together and sold exlusively at Target for the low, low, price of $11.98.

The albums, which drop March 29th, will also be available online through a new, subscription website. For $77, subscribers will be able to access the entire site, as well as download the disks and view "a robust selection of exclusive videos, behind the scenes action, news and concert info." The site will be ready for subscribers on March 24th.

I think this is a smart move- mostly.  With iTunes selling albums for around $10 a pop, it's hard to justify going to Virgin for the hard copy- even though I prefer it. (My car still takes CDs.) It's a great way for Prince to stay competitive in both markets- the digital world and the hard copy.

But $77 for a subscription? Prince has been successful in the past with subscription websites (he's one of the few artists that were) but that was pre-recession. I guess the stakes aren't too high- fans will buy his CDs in one form or another.

Businesses Staying On Top of Recession

Another great little article from the Times about businesses that are doing well despite the recession.  Some of them are pretty obvious (if I was ever going to buy a lottery ticket, it'd be now) while others are simply baffling (cosmetic surgery? seriously?).  Worth checking out.

The Recession As a Contraceptive?

Well, not exactly- but it does seem to be making couples think again before adding a kid into the mix. 

According to a recent article in Time, condom sales (as well as other items in "family planning") have been up 10.2% percent in January and December of 2009.  The explanation?  I think the article explains it best- albeit politically correct-ively:

"To cut expenses, consumers are going out less, a phenomenon retail analysts call cocooning. Among couples, cocooning can lead to canoodling, which can lead to... recreation. 'People are spending a lot less on entertainment,' says Rick Shea, a branding expert and founder of Shea Marketing Consulting. 'And 'that,' for the most part, is free.'"

The article also includes several other new trends for budget-conscious American shoppers, such as stocking up on canned goods, buying containers to make their food fresher longer, and alcohol for drinking at home. 

And just as another reminder to be safe, here's an amazing commerical that got banned in Europe a few years ago that's pretty hilarious.  (probably the most effective safe sex education I've ever seen.)

(thanks Megha for the article!) 

Thursday, March 19, 2009

This Makes Me Hate Wal-Mart Slightly Less

In move of generosity atypical of the retail giant, Wal-Mart has exceeded all previous years of fiscal reward to its employees, giving over 2 billion dollars this year, according to an article in CNN.

Personally, I'm far from singing praises. Wal-Mart is one of the few companies that are thriving as a result of the recession, posting solid gains for 2008. The least recently appointed CEO Mike Duke can do is give his employees a piece of the pie- although Wal-Mart doesn't exactly have a stellar history for treating its employees well...

Apple Unveils Awesome New iPod for $79

Gotta love those folks over at Apple. They've just released the latest ipod shuffle- half as big as the original, with double the capacity. And at $79, it's affordable for pretty much anyone who wants an iPod.

The new shuffle in comparison to the older model- almost half the size.

The shuffle is equipped with a stainless steel clip bearing the apple logo.

The shuffle can play over a thousand songs and has a funky new feature: voiceover. But rather than explain it myself, I think I'll let Hannah, an Apple employee, do the job for me: 

See, this is why their stock is going up. Awesome.

In Nebraska, One Family Owned Baking Company Thrives In Spite Of Recession

Imagine this: a caramel cinnamon roll made of over 100 layers of dough and butter, decadent, dripping, and delicious, fresh out of the oven.

No, I didn’t just describe the latest creation by a Top Chef winner. It’s not the newest dessert entrée at Le Bernadin. It’s one of several pastries sold by James Skinner, president of the family owned James Skinner Baking Company.

In a time where most small companies and family run businesses are either failing or floundering, the company has been seeing record gains. A recent article in USA Today reported a profit increase of 18% from 2007 to 2008. And in December of this year- one of the poorest holiday seasons on record for the vast majority of retail- sales for the company rose 25%.

In a recessive economy, only the strong survive. Usually, it’s the bargain giants: well established corporations with thousands of stores and questionable ethics. In a recent press release, Wal-Mart reported a profit increase of 1.7% in 2009, up over $1.5 billion dollars from 2008. And in January, McDonald’s announced a staggering 7.1% increase in global profits.

It’s not surprising, but it is upsetting. As America shifts its priorities from quality to cost, many small businesses and family owned companies are failing. And though most Americans are now picking up their new summer wardrobe at Target instead of Macy’s, or grabbing a coffee at Burger King rather than Starbucks, the search continues for smaller companies that provide quality service at low prices- while remaining financially stable enough to weather a tough economic climate.

Enter James Skinner, 58-year-old president of the James Skinner Company. His company, family owned since 1983, sells a variety of homemade pastries, from streusel topped cinnamon rolls to Bavarian crème coffee cake. And at $3.49 to $5.99 for a pack of six pastries (a package that sells for $8.99 is being discontinued), the price is definitely right.

Since taking over the business in 2004, Skinner relies on quality products and a tight knit staff of over 300 to maintain a profitable enterprise. And whatever he’s doing, it’s working.

All this success stemming from a man who, at one point, wasn’t sure whether he wanted to take over the family business.

“I was interested in marine biology, however I knew my father wanted me in the business,” wrote James through an email interview. “Besides, there's not much marine activity in Nebraska.” 

The company, which bakes over 200 million pastries annually, relies on a method hundreds of years old for its baking process. An exclusive layering method ensures that each pastry is made with 100 layers of dough and butter, then kept overnight in a time delay process to provide maximum flavor.

“It is an old world European process, and is very time consuming,” admits Skinner. “Throughout the years most large bakeries have shortened the process, which we believe has lessened the quality of the finished product.” 

From there, the privately labeled products are shipped off and sold across the country to bakeries in several supermarket chains- Nash Finch, Supervalu, Associated Wholesale Grocers, Target, and Hannaford brothers, for example. While the pastries are not sold directly to the supermarkets- yet- Skinner is considering the idea.

“Presently we have a Vice President of sales and two sales associates who direct over 45 food brokers throughout the country,” wrote Skinner. “Within retail sale we have always utilized a broker network but are exploring direct sales.”

Since he’s confident in his products, he’s not really worried about the recession. “Our products are quality based and priced right for the consumer,” wrote Skinner. “The recession, as [with] past recessions, have not had that much of an adverse effect.”

He does admit, however, that sales usually slag in the late winter months.

"Sales have historically fallen off a bit every January and February and usually pick up toward the end of February and beyond,” wrote Skinner. “We are addressing this and will plan additional promotional activities during these months next year.”

Skinner believes that maintaining his company as private is one of the key components of its current success.

“We look at areas within the company- people, operations, etc-
where we are inefficient, and explore ways to make improvements,” wrote Skinner. “Because we are family owned and operated we can react quickly, compared to a publicly owned company that must answer to shareholders.” 

But while times are good for the mid sized, family owned company, Skinner is anything but complacent, preparing the company for the tough times ahead. In addition to making improvements to their purchasing and engineering departments, the company is also currently working on a healthier product line, “to complement our existing line of products.” A smart move, considering just one five-ounce cream cheese iced cinnamon roll packs 580 calories and 30 grams of fat. (But what did you expect from a pastry that boasts over 100 layers of dough and butter?)

But that doesn’t stop Skinner from admitting it’s his favorite.

“It's a tie between our cheese strip danish and our cream cheese iced cinnamon rolls,” he wrote. 

For more on the company, or to place an order (I highly recommend the Bavarian Creme Coffee Cake or the Cream Cheese Iced Cinnamon Rolls), check out their website. Support family businesses!

Drink Cheap!

There's nothing I hate more than shelling out $6 dollars for a Bud Light in a bar on the West Village.  Unfortunately, in NY, high drink prices are hard to avoid- especially when you've got a questionable ID. Now that I'm 21, it's a lot easier to get into those places that have great prices- whether during a happy hour special or all day long.  Here's a couple of my favorite places:

The name is pretty explanatory- $1 burgers, $2 shots, $3 beers. But don't go expecting a double decker and a jigger of Jack Daniels- these burgers are definitely more of the White Castle variety. Still, they're great drunk munchie food, and at $1 apiece, they won't cut into your budget.

With names ranging from "Jolly Rancher" to "Screaming Orgasm," the shots are more sugar than alcohol- but hey, what did you expect for two dollars?  And you're always safe with the beer, which goes above and beyond the typical happy hour priced Natty Ice- Newcastle, Sam Adams, even Stella goes for just $3 a pop.

With six locations in the NYC area, Mexican restaurant blockheads is a drinker's delight, with frozen margaritas starting at three dollars (add a variety of fruity flavors for just a dollar more). Unlike the ones at Burger Shot, these margaritas pack a punch, so make sure to complement your drink with some of their cheap, but delicious, Mexican fare. (Try the guacamole.)

Also, be sure to try their speciality, the Mexican Bulldog: a frozen margarita topped with a full sized Corona and an extra shot of tequila, all for just $7. (Just don't have more than one.)

Immediately recognizable by the famed oversized pig statue at the entrance, Rudy's Bar and Grill in Hell's Kitchen is a great place to pound brewskies. Bottled beer ranges from $2.50 for a Stegmier to $5, but if you're going with a big group, it's probably better to invest in pitchers. Seven bucks will get you a pitcher of "Rudy's Blonde," the house special, which goes down easy. If you're getting hungry after a few pitchers, you can always go up to the bar and get a hot dog or two- they're free, anytime of the week.

Side Note: This bar has a zero tolerance policy on fake IDs, which they confiscate and proudly display in a collage above the bar- which, for many college students, is a lost $50+ investment. Since they card at the door on weekends, it's probably not a good idea to risk it. 

Like hookah but hate spending $25 with a two drink minimum? Come to Horus Cafe on Avenue B and 10th.  Prices start at just $15 for a hookah with a one drink minimum, with prices ranging from $4 for a shirley temple to $8 for a bellini. The place is always packed on a weekend, yet the staff is very attentive. Definitely worth checking out.

They have belly dancers in every Friday and Saturday night, and karaoke on Sundays- although it's gotta be hard to sing with all that smoke circling.

A staple in the East Village, The Pour House has never been high on my list- until I took a look at their weeklong specials.  Every night has a different deal- from Monday's 25 cent wings and $1.95 natty ice's (served in a brown bag) to Fridays, where ladies drink half price cocktails from 10 pm to close. And it's not just the drinks: Tuesdays are Rock Band and Wii night, and Saturdays boast an 80's dance party. 

Happy drinking!

High Dining For Low Prices

I've always been a fan of expensive culinary fare. Although I have had the opportunity to dine at some of New  York finest restaurants- Balthazar's, Ben & Jack's, The Ocean Grill  - it's always been with a longfaced parent or boyfriend in tow. 

Now single, and with parents who, after four years of visiting in New York, are less inclined to dine at Daniel's, I have been increasingly forced of late to- gasp!- supply my own culinary adventures. Naturally, I'm much more inclined to look for deals, especially in light of the current economic climate.

And while looking for bargains in fine restaurants, I've been pleasantly surprised at how many places are offering terrific deals. (And I'm not just talking about the monthlong restaurant week.) Not only that, but there are several restaurants offering delicious meals for less than you'd spend at lunch at Chipotle. Here's what I've been able to come up with thus far:

Okay, okay, I know it's a chain. But Ruth's Chris has a history of delivering when it comes to steak, but at an average of $30-40 for the filet alone, few of us can afford to splurge very often.  But just recently, the steakhouse made a smart move, introducing a pre-fix menu dubbed Ruth's Classics. For just under $40, patrons get a full three course meal with their choice of side. Selections include filet topped with shrimp with a fresh cream chocolate mousse for dessert- how can you go wrong?

While sitting on stools hardly qualifies as fine dining, I had to include Mary's anyway. The restaurant has gotten rave reviews since opening in 2000, and you certainly can't beat the prices- everything on the menu is under $25, and the vast majority of selections under $15. Be sure to try their famous lobster roll, but be prepared to wait for it.  Oh, and beware the pricey wine list. 

In a city where you can get a slice of pizza for a buck at anytime, anywhere, it may seem extreme to spend $4.00 on a slice after waiting on line for 30 minutes- but do it.  Artichoke, a closet sized pizzeria which opened on 14th st and 1st in late 2008,  may have the best damn slice of margarita in the city, if not in the whole damn country. 

The menu is short and succinct- crab pizza, margarita, and finally, their namesake artichoke- a thick crusted piece of heaven covered in cheese, artichokes, spinach, butter and wine.  The settings may be less than gourmet- the restaurant is lit by a lamp in the shape of a woman's leg (to scale)- but none of that matters when you take that first perfect bite. Plus, the place is open until 4 am on weekends, so it's the perfect way to soak up a shot or two after a night out.

Bon Appetit! 

Want to Travel? 10 Ways to Cut Costs

USA Today just released an excellent article on ten ways to cut expenses while traveling during a recession.  

Us Americans tend to be narcissistic, and personally, I sometimes forget that the recession has hit on a global scale- so you might be surprised at how the dollar is faring in other countries.  As a 'for example': when I studied in Prague last year in the spring semester, the Czech Koruna plummeted from around 23 Kc to the dollar to around 16-17- all in the course of four months.  And that was before the crisis really hit.  Now, one US dollar will exchange for a little under 20 Kc... giving your vacation to Praha an increased financial punch of 10%. 

Can anyone really justify leisure travel right now? As a college student halfway through my last semester with loans to pay off, I probably can't... but that doesn't mean others shouldn't take advantage of the great deals being offered by airlines, cruises, hotels, and the Eurail.

And if you're interested in seeing how the dollar is faring in other countries, Yahoo has an continually updated currency converter. Now just may be the time for that long put off trip to Barcelona!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Maybe We Should Follow His Lead...

Now here's a guy who knows his priorities during a recession.

(picture taken at Astor Place in NYC)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Hell is Going Out of Business

T-shirt hell, that is.  

Even if you've never been on the website, which is infamous for its controversial t-shirts, you've still probably seen the shirts floating around- whether it was the "Talk Nerdy To Me" wifebeater on your weird roommate's ex-boyfriend, the "I'm the Guy Who Married Britney" hoodie in the fashion section of US Weekly, or the best selling "I'm What Willis Was Talkin' 'Bout" t-shirt that was featured on Scrubs in 2004. 

Since June of 2001, owner Sunshine Megatron (don't ask) has sold thousands of t-shirts ranging from slightly offensive, to mildly humorous, to highly controversial. In his eight years of selling shirts, Mr. Megatron has received thousands of hate emails, cease and desists from several celebrity targets (Rick James, the Olsen Twins, and Christopher Reeves being just a sample), and even survived a possible poison attempt in 2005. And through all that, he kept doing what he did best: pissing people off through the magic of controversial satire. 

But on January 29, Megatron announced that he would shut down his website and company on February 10. His reason? "I just don't feel like dealing with idiots anymore."  It was a reference to the thousands of hate letters that are sent to the company each week, many containing death threats.  In the announcement, Megatron cited the safety of his employees as his chief concern, and the main reason behind "not pushing the envelope so much anymore... I can't say I feel good about having caved in." While the current economic recession wasn't the main factor behind his decision, he admitted that "the recent dip in sales certainly makes the idea easier to accept, even though we still sell almost 3,000 shirts a week."

And so began the last two weeks. Then, due to overwhelming response, Megatron extended the final day to February 16th  (and even I was considering buying a long time favorite). 

And so the last day of the sale, I logged on to buy my t-shirt- and read a new announcement from one of the shrewdest businessmen of the recession.  Long story short, Megatron pulled a Beanie Baby/Celine Dion- faking going out of business to increase sales in the short run.  And it worked. Oh, did it work:

"And just so I make this clear, I haven't decided to keep T-Shirt Hell going because of the tens of thousands of supportive emails we received or because of the press and sales we generated over the last 3 weeks (nearly 100,000 shirts sold). We were never...ever...leaving in the first place. Let's just call it tough love.  Sometimes you need to kick your loved ones in the assholes to get them to satisfy their need for awesome t-shirts (and to fill my bank account.)

Let's call it my own personal stimulus package. In 3 weeks, I've done EXACTLY what is needed to stimulate any economy... and that is to get people to open their wallets. Not only did the last 3 weeks save jobs at T-Shirt Hell, they've opened up a whole new world to people who had never bought our shirts until now."

Yea, he duped us. He also singlehandedly saved his company through the application of one of the simplest rules of business: supply and demand.  Cut the supply, and the demand grows.

Touche, Sunshine Megatron. Touche. Maybe we need you on Wall Street.

7-Day Cruise for $499? (Shiver me timbers!)

Always wanted to go on an Alaskan cruise? Now may just be the perfect time.  Today's New York Times included an excellent article on reduced rates for international cruises.

...if only I had seen this before I made spring break plans. 

Definitely worth checking out if you're looking for a relaxing, post graduation vacation!

As Nation’s First Gay Bookstore Closes, Longtime Manager Looks to the Future

At first glance, the Oscar Wilde has everything you’d expect from a gay bookstore: bawdy calendars and prideful bumper stickers, all six seasons of the L Word on DVD, and, of course, the complete works of David Sedaris. Outside, a rainbow flag splashes color against the neutral brownstone entrance, a welcome mat of sorts for the erudite gay population of the West Village.

As the nation’s first- and only- gay and lesbian bookstore, the Oscar Wilde is a landmark, a haven, and a living piece of history- all crowded in a space no larger than the average studio apartment.

But not for much longer. On February 3, citing poor sales and double-digit losses, storeowner Kim Brinster publicly announced plans to close the Oscar Wilde. On March 29th, the economic recession will claim another victim. And when the Oscar Wilde goes down, store manager Cecilia Martin is going with it.

Martin, a 39-year-old Michigan native, has worked at the bookstore for over six years and managed for the past three. She first heard of the store years ago, long before moving to the city in 1995.

“I remember when I first visited New York, this was one of the first places I came to visit,” Martin says.

After her move, Martin would occasionally frequent the store during her ten-year career as an off-Broadway stage manager.

“I was working on a show and I came in here to buy a book. I needed another part time job, and I just wanted something different, to meet people in the gay community,” said Martin. “I asked them if they were hiring and they were!”

Six years later, Martin is a striking offset to the store’s natural flamboyancy- tall, thin, and conservatively dressed, with a large rainbow watch adorning her wrist. Since Brinster’s announcement- and its subsequent front-page coverage by the New York Times website- the store is busier than it’s been in months, yet Martin handles the continual calls and order requests with clipped efficiency.

“I have a list of all the people I have to call back for interviews,” Martin says, smiling apologetically as she attends to a ringing phone.

In between phone calls, Martin lists her efforts to keep the store afloat. Along with Brinster, she’s tried book clubs, an online shopping source, and “wine and sign” nights with some of the gay community’s most prominent authors: Ann Bannon, Edmund White, and Chris Bram. She penned a weekly email to hundreds of subscribers with news updates, as well as a monthly newsletter informing loyal clients of new authors and seasonal discounts. All of this, she admits, for the love of her job, the store, and her passion for books.

"I love my job, and I love coming to work everyday. I’m mourning, not only for myself but for the community. This is the last gay and lesbian bookstore in New York. It’s been here for 41 years.”

Yet Martin admits it’s a loss she sensed was coming.

“I remember seeing a news article that people were amazed by the economy and the crisis, but retailers knew it [was coming] a year ago,” Martin said. “We started to see that things had slowed down.”

“This year was the worst Christmas ever,” Martin adds. “If you look at the month as a whole, it was just one of the worst months of the year.”

This is not the first time the bookstore has had its head on the chopping block. In 2003, then owner Larry Lingle admitted he could no longer afford to keep the store open- and was bought out by Deacon Maccubin, owner of Lamba Rising Bookstores in Washington in the eleventh hour. Is Martin hoping for another last minute pardon?

“There’s always that glimmer of hope that there’s someone out there who has millions of dollars to spend and wants to buy a quirky little bookstore in a brownstone,” Martin says. “I think it would take a miracle, but you never know. Miracles do happen.”

But in case it doesn’t, Martin has a backup plan. She’s getting her MLS at Queens College in library science, and hoping for a job that keeps her working among her passion- literature. But libraries are also suffering, she admits, and finding another job might be difficult.

“I’m going to be like everyone else,” says Martin. “I’m going to be out there looking and hoping for something.”

Chanel Cuts Costs With Paper Headdresses

Talk about being creative: in Chanel's January Couture show, renowned hairstylist Katsuya Kamo saved the fashion company thousands of dollars by creating this year's line of headresses... with paper.

Half a dozen helpers, three weeks, and two packets of 11 x 17 office paper later, and viola! Kamo's designs were ready for the runway. These are a few of the designs that Kamo came up with. They're amazing... and a far cry away from the paper hats I remember making as a kid.

Lily Allen Offers New Album for $3.99 On

Say what you like about Lily Allen (I'm talking to you, Perez) but the singer/songwriter knows how to work it in a financial crunch.  To promote her sophomore album, the already critically acclaimed "It's Not Me, It's You," the singer has teamed up with Amazon to offer the album for the low, low price of $3.99- at least for the first week of sales.

The promotion, which was supposed to end on February 16th, offers an MP3 of the hit album that downloads directly to your iTunes (once you've installed the Amazon MP3 downloader- both Mac and PC compatible).  Although the deal was supposed to end yesterday, a quick glance on Amazon showed the album still being sold at the bargain price, so do yourself a favor and buy it while the going's good. I know, it's $3.99 more than a pirated version- but come on. Guaranteed perfect quality and no chances of being rickrolled

Personally, I think it's a great idea.  It's pretty hard to shell out $10 for an album on iTunes and even harder to drop $20 on a hard copy at Virgin, leading even the most morally upright of us to BitTorrent and Limewire for our musical needs and wants.  But at just under 4 bucks, Allen's making it a lot easier for college students to say yes to legal music- even if it's just for a week at a time.

That's not the only way Lily's been promoting her album- she also had a free show at the Bowery Ballroom on February 10th.  If you missed it, she's also playing for free in Tokyo and London later this month... let me know how it was.

To listen to more of Lily's music, check out her myspace or the official music video to her hit single "The Fear" on youtube.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Would You Like Foam With That? Starbucks to Introduce Value Meals

In response to floundering sales and an increasingly competitive market, Starbucks recently announced plans to introduce a new line of "value meal" style breakfast pairings beginning March 3rd. 

Meal options include a tall (small in Starbuckese) latte with oatmeal or coffee cake, or a tall drip coffee paired with a variety of breakfast sandwiches. The meals will cost $3.95 and save customers an average of $1.20.

But that's not all- starting today, Starbucks has launched a campaign to promote their latest attempt to attract recession minded penny pinches- instant coffee packets.

Called Via, the Ready Brew Instant Coffee packets sell for under $1 a piece and are being tested in Chicago and Seattle markets.  They're available in two flavors- Columbia, a medium blend, and Italian Roast, an extra bold blend for more experienced drinkers. 

Whether these efforts will save the staggering company remains to be seen, but either way, it's a move in the right direction for the coffee giant, who reported record losses in the last fiscal quarter. 

As a former Starbucks barista, I can't help but feel a little defensive about this topic.  Sure, an iced quad venti vanilla soy latte might set you back $5 (and a few hundred calories), but I tend to agree with CEO Howard Schultz's recent statement regarding "misperceptions about affordability." If you're anything like my father- who shudders at the idea of flavored syrups, rolls his eyes at multi-syllabled drink orders, and thinks the frappuccino is a new dance craze- you may be surprised at how affordable a plain old fashioned cup of coffee at Starbucks can be.  I made a few calls to the Big Four of Coffee (Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, McDonald's, and Burger King) to compare *prices of drip coffee in NYC stores, and the results were pretty surprising:

Tall (12 oz) $1.75
Grande (16 oz) $1.95
Venti (20 oz) $2.10

Dunkin' Donuts
Small (14 oz) $1.61
Medium: (16 oz) $1.94
Large (24 oz) $2.29

McDonald's (with taxes)
Small (12 oz) $1.40
Medium (16 oz) $1.61
Large (20 oz) $1.83

Burger King
Value (12 oz) $1.08
Medium (16 oz) $1.29 
Large (20 oz) $1.51

While Starbuck's prices are, on average, highest out of the four, I find it interesting that Dunkin Donut's and Starbuck's medium sized prices are within a penny of each other- and that the large at Dunkin is actually 19 cents more expensive than Starbucks.  (To be fair, Dunkin's large is 4 oz bigger. But do you really need a coffee the size of a Big Gulp?) 

Burger King definitely wins for best deal at just above a dollar for a small cup.  But I wonder if they freshly grind their coffee daily, brew a new pot every 30 minutes, use fair trade coffee, pay their workers above minimum wage, and provide workers with health insurance and stock options.... like Starbucks does. 

...Maybe it's worth it for those extra few cents a cup.

*All prices are without taxes unless otherwise noted.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

New York Dairy Farmers Face Sour Times

What are the two most turbulently priced liquids in America?

Gas, of course... and milk.

According to an article in the Times Union, dairy farmers in the tri-state area are seeing a 40% decline in milk and cheese prices from this time last year.

While newly budgeted families may appreciate the drastic drop in dairy prices (remember spending $4 on a gallon of milk during the summer?), many farmers worry what the decreased profit margin will mean for their farms.

According to Peter Gregg, the spokesman for the New York Farm Bureau, small farms are the most vulnerable, as they are most affected by changes in the economy.  Despite federal subsidies, many of these farms are finding the cost of producing milk more than the price per gallon.

To combat the issue, five U.S. Senators have lettered a request to the Federal Agriculture Department to increase the demand by buying more milk for government programs. 

Still, the fate of tri state farmers is uncertain. 

Recession: The Right Time to Start a Business?

I just read a refreshingly optimistic article on zwire which makes a compelling argument for starting a business during economically troubled times.  I've surmised the more important points from the article while including some ideas of my own...

1. Pick a sound market.  
That means no luxuries. Simply stated, now is not the time to invest in that fair trade, all natural Starbucks alternative you've always dreamed of doing.  Zwire writer Mark Miller suggests considering what he calls "recession proof" markets: anything related to health care, car insurance, etc. This rule has always applied to a sound business, but now more than ever, think: practical, universal, and necessary.  

2. Appeal to demand.
Everyday on my way to class, I pass a newly opened, eternally empty all vegan ice cream store with a thoroughly depressed manager behind the register.  If that store's not making it in the middle of the West Village in NYC, it's not gonna make anywhere.  It's always risky to invest in a niche market, and now is probably not the time to try.

3. Cut the Strings.
Consider self proprietorships- aka, starting a business solo.  It's more common then you think-according to the article, 85 percent of business tax returns are filed by companies with no employees. It means that you earn all the profits, control all the assets and... assume all losses and liability (see numbers 1 and 2). Instead of hiring employees, look for other small businesses offering the services you need and align with them.  A self proprietorship keeps overhead down and profits up- as long as you know what you're doing.

4. Know What You're Doing.
Have a great idea for home delivery of prescription medications? Do you have any experience? Connections? Marketability? No?  Stick with something you've got a handle on.

While helpful, all these rules can be applied in times of economic prosperity. In the other half of his article, Miller explains the specific advantages of starting a business during a recession:

1. Survival of the Fittest. 
We're seeing it everywhere-  businesses are failing. And when businesses fail, it means less competition, with greater opportunities for brand expansion for stronger companies.

2. Sale! Sale! Sale!
While it may be more difficult to get a loan for your business, suppliers are cutting prices on the raw materials, and service fees for website design, etc, can be found for a bargain.  Also, with the real estate market plunging, office space can be had for lower prices than ever before- even in the NYC.  

Miller makes some compelling points with his article, but I'm not sure I'd have the daring to begin a business in today's world. What do you think?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Lighter Side...

I was about to write on the attempted suicide of a 90 year old woman whose home was foreclosed, but I thought that was a little intense for my first official posting. (Don't worry- she survived and was able to keep her home).

So instead, I sampled a quote from one of my favorite websites, a hilarious site where New Yorkers send in snippets of conversations they've overheard on the street.  The conversations are then posted online (along with an amusing headline).  This one emulates my feelings exactly on my impending graduation...

New Yorkers Love a Game of "So You Think You Have Problems?"
Screaming Child: Mommy, I want to go home!
Disgruntled Employee: You think you have problems?! Try graduating from art college in the middle of a recession! Then you can cry!
--H&M Store

And you'd be surprised how often panhandlers can be counted on for a laugh:

Hobo on subway to man in suit: Spare change? Anyone? Spare change for the homeless? You look like you worked for Lehman Brothers, you're excused.
--51st St


In case you haven't heard, the economy has entered the seventh circle of hell.

And everyone has their ways of dealing with it.  The Girl Scouts of America have recently announced plans to remove a small number of cookies from each box to combat higher prices on raw materials and transportation costs.  My best friend's pot dealer is currently offering a "recession special" on juicy fruit- the leaf, not the gum. (no link for that one. You'll have to take my word on it.) Thank God we have celebrities like Mary Kate Olsen to look at the bright side. Miss Olsen was recently overheard to say in a Barney's that the recession was "sad....but at least they are having good sales!" 

Everybody- except perhaps Miss Olsen- is hurting. It seems like a day can't go by without more news of corporate liquidations, nefarious CEOs, and ineffective politicians.  We are, quite literally,  saturated in bad news.

...So why write a blog about it?  

I'm tired of the same news angle.  We all know about the business liquidations, the plunging stock market, and our mounting debt.  Personally, I'd like to find out more about companies and individuals who are adapting their lives and businesses to the current economic crisis. What are they doing that's different?  And have they been successful? 

I'd love to get some interactive feedback on this blog. I'd love to hear what your situation is and how this economy has effected you. And in the meantime, I'll be posting all the true stories I can find- whether they're funny, inspirational, or tragic- about how everyone from the average Americans to the 7 figure businessman is surviving the worst recession since the Great Depression.

~Emily Leonard