At a time when corporate layoffs are up and people across America are finding ways to save on gas, food and practically everything else, some industries are reaping the benefits of the penny-pinching wave. • The Times takes a look at some familiar businesses doing well despite the unsure economy, helping families find a cheap thrill, drivers a less-painful commute and the unemployed improve their stock.
Used auto parts
Largo auto mechanic John Martino said his customers are often choosing between fixing minor things – like air conditioning in the summertime – and having gas in their tanks.
That pushes them to go cheap.
"I don't like to deal with used parts, but customers are asking more," he said.
That's good news for parts dealers.
A representative with Select Auto Parts in Clearwater said he's seen a noticeable spike in used parts sales.
Revolution Bicycles in St. Petersburg has seen a 15 percent increase in bike sales in recent months, mostly from people gone pale at the price of gas, said Greg Hodges, the store's assistant manager.
"We're seeing a large percent increase of people looking to repair old bikes, buy new bikes or just look for an alternate means of transportation," Hodges said. "Bike prices have gone up a little bit, but riding a bike is still cheaper than driving."
Southern Pawn and Jewelry has nine locations in the bay area. Heather Denburgh, manager of a St. Petersburg location, said every one of the stores has been going gangbusters.
"We've definitely seen an increase in customers — 50 percent in the past couple months, at least," Denburgh said. "We'll have customers come in Monday and Tuesday to get cash for their stuff, come back for it Friday, and they're back here Monday to do it all over again. They're really struggling to get by, just to pay for gas."
Rhiannon Wright works at metal recycler Gulf Coast Metals in Gainesville. She said the number of people hurrying to cash in cans for quarters has increased by about 25 percent over the past six months.
The rising value of commodities like aluminium, and the increase in customer payouts, hasn't hurt either.
"We give 76 cents per pound of aluminium. That's gone up 10 cents
(15 percent) in the year I've worked here," Wright said.
The bay area lost 13,800 jobs last month — the fifth highest in regional jobs lost in the nation. Now, many people are going back to school. That's good news for St. Petersburg College, which has programs in nursing and education, two of the fastest-growing job sectors in the state.
"Whenever there is a downturn in the economy, it is not uncommon for us to see an increase in enrollment," said Anne Cooper, the college's senior vice president for academic and student affairs. Cooper reported a 5 percent enrollment increase over 2007.
Among the merchants doing better than ever: those peddling video games. Year-to-date, sales are up 31 percent.
Jim Belanger, president of upstart gaming franchise Gamer Doc, sees the current market as an opportunity — the new chain is shooting to open stores in the Tampa area this year.
"The video game industry is exploding. There's nothing growing this much anywhere," Belanger said.