Some jobs will not be returning anytime soon

In a storefront Carrollwood fitness center, trainer Mark Metzger runs a client through a short routine of biceps curls and leg presses. "Feet closer together," he urges. "Up, down, that's it. Two more." Don't be fooled by Metzger's broad shoulders and rippling muscles. As a personal trainer, he is an endangered species in today's economy. "I remember back in 2004, everybody and their mother had a trainer," he says. "I literally had to turn people away." Now he's doing about half his usual business, and some former clients are dodging his calls. "They're embarrassed, and they shouldn't be." While nearly all sectors are suffering in what is now officially a recession, services such as personal training are in a special class, as they are easy to cut when money is tight.

Economists call them "elastic," and some of the shakeouts are severe. House cleaners, nail techs and hair cutters are feeling the pinch. Even the "We Hang Christmas Lights" company, though busy, is doing a little more hanging around this year.

"There almost aren't any industries that are not affected," says Don Bellante, an economist at the University of South Florida. "I used to say, 'maybe funeral directors.' Then I was talking to a funeral director who told me people are spending a lot less money. They have a lot of choices."

First casualties

At the Saigon Plaza in Pinellas Park, Phong Ngo stands guard in a silent warehouse. Bottles and jars of lotions and chemicals fill the shelves of CA Nail Supply. Chairs are neatly arranged, some wrapped in cellophane.

Business is down at least 50 percent, salon owners tell Ngo, who doesn't know if his own business can last a year.

"Three years ago, it was hard to find a nail tech," he says. "Now nail techs are everywhere."

Similarly, housekeepers are suffering. Speaking in Spanish, Cuban-born Teresita Allegue of Town 'N Country says she has been calling former customers, trying to line up work.

"Now they tell me, 'I can't. I can't,' " she says. "It's very ugly out there. Very ugly."

Maids are losing jobs even in affluent neighborhoods. "I have seen an overwhelming amount of cancellations as people want to tighten their belts," says Anna Aliperta, who serves New Tampa with Ann's Cleaning Service. She used to employ five cleaners; she now has two.

"You wouldn't think, with incomes of $80,000 and above, that it would affect us," she says.

Employees who lack English skills or legal immigration status become doubly vulnerable.

Bellante believes the unemployment rate stayed relatively low, even though the recession began a year ago, because "the first to be affected were not legally employed anyway."

Even adult entertainment is not immune. "To say that any business on the planet is recession-proof is oxymoronic," says George John, owner of Tampa's Platinum Showgirls nude bar, which is taking in 20 percent less than last year. Businessmen no longer buy dances for their banker friends. Women who lost jobs in other fields are trying to dance for money.

"Sometimes you walk out of there with nothing," says 29-year-old Hope Holbrook of Tampa, who dances for tips. "The out-of-towners are still coming in, but they're not spending money like last year."

Pain of postponement

Salon owners say women are coloring their hair less frequently. Personal training customers are scheduling sessions further apart.

Such behavior, which economists call postponement, extends beyond luxury spending. Consumers will wait to replace a piece of furniture or, if they know someone who is good with a wrench, a broken appliance.

"An automobile is not a luxury," Bellante says. "But in a recession, purchasing it is something that can easily be postponed. You'll hang onto it and wait another year."

The effects vary widely. The Merry Maids cleaning service has held onto its regular customers, says owner Stephen Fisher. But one-time cleanings have decreased. And while Fisher advertised heavily for maids in 2005 and 2006, he now gets all the cleaners he needs without advertising at all.

Metzger, the trainer, has had clients vanish from sight.

"I have had people who are really gung ho, and they will tell me they will be there, and then just not show up," he says. "That floored me. Then they don't take my calls, and they never come back."

Shaky times three

Imagine making a living these days as a disc jockey, car detailer and weekend lawn cutter.

That's how Lori Anderson and Fabrizio Alarcon of Citrus Park support their three children. Richie Rich Mobile Detailing and dj4tampa.com are struggling as businesses spend less on company cars and entertainment. The lawns the couple cut are now for relatives.

"We'll go grocery shopping for someone if they need us to," Anderson says, half joking.

"It's not stable. I don't know from one month to the next." She'd look for a job, but she can't afford the child care, she says. "And nobody's hiring."

Anderson copes as many others do — by spending less, which paradoxically worsens the economy. She cooks more to avoid restaurant bills. She plays board games with her children instead of taking them to carnivals.

"I'm thankful that we have a house," she says.

Fisher, of Merry Maids, hopes the economy will improve this spring — a possibility, he says, if the recession began a year ago and lasts 14 months.

"As people get back into the work force when this economy does turn around, given the impact it had on 401(k)s, we will see more dual-income families," he says.

"That's our bread and butter."

Times staff writer Dong-Phuong Nguyen contributed to this report. Marlene Sokol can be reached at sokol@sptimes.com or (813) 269-5307.

Some jobs will not be returning anytime soon 12/07/08 [Last modified: Sunday, December 7, 2008 9:33am]

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