Americans are threading a thrifty course through the recession, but some folks who can't afford a new pair of shoes are still buying pricy video games and console systems that cost more than a month's rent.
What's going on?
Some "recession-proof" industries are flailing their way through this economic downturn, while others are taking off for the first time in decades. Look who's making bank and who's going bust — a few of them might surprise you:
DOWN: Beer is flat. Well, not straight out of the can, but beer sales have been as still as tap water this year, according to Benj Steinman, editor of Beer Marketer's Insights magazine. The Commerce Department painted an even bleaker picture for the end of 2008, showing an unprecedented sales slump that sent Anheuser-Busch's profits plummeting 95 percent last quarter. But not all brewers have caught the shakes — cheaper brands like Keystone Light are "flying off the shelves," Steinman told FOXNews.com. It's not the King of Beers, but if you're looking to drown your sorrows, it'll get you through the night.
UP: Mop-tops beware. The barbershop talk was pretty good at the last meeting of the National Barber Boards of America. "Nobody really complained about business," said the group's executive officer, Charles Kirkpatrick. "Everybody said business is good." Kirkpatrick told FOXNews.com that the recession and high unemployment might actually be improving the tonsorial take, as customers come in for a "bread and butter" trim before job interviews — and plenty have been on the lookout for new work. "That's helped our business some. When people need to look better for a job, they come in for a haircut." Apparently some people still haven't heard of the Flowbee.
UP: Breasts and wings. Hooters is taking flight. In 2008 the restaurant's profits and total revenues were up slightly, bucking industry trends that have torpedoed other national chains. "I think given where we are, we're very pleased with our performance," said Mike McNeil, Hooters' vice president of marketing. As imitation chains with scantily clad servers sprout up all over, McNeil attributed Hooters' success to the company's friendly service and affordable food. "Times are bad and people are looking to get away from the trouble for a little while.... Four guys can go to Hooters and for $100 can get treated like kings." Despite the troubles in the restaurant and bar industry, Americans spent nearly $300 million more in January on bar food than they did a year ago. That's a lot of fries, and no small potatoes.
UP: Players' club. Even as video game prices continue to climb, sales are skyrocketing in an industry that doesn't seem the least bit hit by the recession. "January sales were up 13 percent over January 2008," said David Riley, senior public relations manager at NPD Group, which tracks the industry. Sales are being pushed by the Nintendo Wii, the extremely popular video game platform that offers players a chance to flex multiple muscle groups, including their wrists, forearms and (most famously) their hips. Riley said he wasn't surprised that video games are selling so well, as they offer nearly endless gameplay and a lot of bang for the buck. "What would be surprising is if we saw a huge dip in sales. That would be really scary because then you'd know we really are in a recession."
UP: Let it shine. Cobblers have never had it so good. People who used to discard their footwear like nothing more than old shoes are turning to repair shops for ways to make the leather last. "This is the best lift that we've seen in the business so far, at least as long as I've been around," said John McLoughlin, president of the Shoe Service Institute of America. McLoughlin said customers are changing their spending habits to cope with the tanking economy, and shoemakers who were worried about making ends meet can't even cope with the volume of orders they have now. "I know some repairmen who take a pair of shoes ... [and can't get it back to customers] in a week, two weeks, three weeks in some cases," he told FOXNews.com.
UP: Silver screen, golden ticket. The movie industry took off during the Great Depression, but that was when tickets cost a wooden nickel and you didn't have to put your house on collateral just to afford the popcorn. Now after years of slides, the movie industry is roaring back. "So far this year the box office has been up about 10 percent," said Chad Hartigan, a box office analyst with Exhibitor Relations Co. Movies have raked in over $2 billion already this year, with a very unlikely hero leading the pack. "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" has topped the box office this year with $137 million, meaning it took a tubby security guard two months to earn what it takes Derek Jeter nearly a decade. "That's a film that nothing in history would have pointed to it making as much as it has," said Hartigan.
DOWN: Muere Las Vegas! It doesn't have that special ring to it, but Sin City is in a bad way. Even as lottery tickets are expanding sales in most states, gaming revenue is down in Nevada nearly 15 percent from a year ago as fewer people are willing to hazard their pay for the thrill of losing big (the stock market's better for that, anyway). Las Vegas Sands Corporation stock has plummeted 97 percent — that's right, 97 percent — in less than a year, and MGM Mirage going bankrupt as it tries to sell its $800 million anchor casino in Detroit to recoup losses. You know things are bad when even the house isn't winning.
UP: Man's best, most expensive friend. The picture was stark for America's pets last year —millions were abandoned or left in shelters as foreclosures forced families out of house and home. But cats and dogs lucky enough to stay in the family are getting the royal treatment, despite the crunch their owners may be feeling. According to the Commerce Department, Americans spent over $6 billion on their pets in January, $500 million more than they did during January 2008. Veterinarians are sharing the boom, as Americans spent $23.2 billion during January on veterinary services, $1.5 billion more than they did just a year ago.