Megan Hyde walked into the little shop with the dragons on the wall and incense in the air.
She had price-shopped before making this appointment. One person wanted $50 for a half hour.
"That's half of groceries," said Hyde, who is 29, single and raising a son.
But at Enchanted Forest in St. Petersburg, she could spend $20 for 20 minutes — time to help distill things that were weighing heavy. Would her job as real estate executive assistant have future prospects? When she transfers to the University of South Florida this year, what should she study? Should she follow her passion or chart a more reliable route in these uncertain times?
In the quest for peace of mind, $20 seemed reasonable.
So she went into the small room in the back, with the crystal ball on the table and the unicorn rug on the wall, and let someone give her some.
• • •
This isn't the kind of story with a ton of studies and data and figures that prove a point. But there is a presumption:
People want to know they're going to be okay.
Survey Tampa Bay area psychics and they will answer that business — or at least the frequency of topical questions — has inflated.
"I would say November, right before Christmas, it started," said Lori Newlove, a psychic reader who practices at the Soul Mirror in Tampa and Enchanted Earth in Dunedin. "Almost every person was asking me about the economy. They were asking me if they were going to find a job. They were asking me if they were going to lose their jobs."
In Florida, more than a tenth of people are out of work. We have the second most foreclosures in the country. Food stamps are in hot demand. Shelters are scraping to help those in need.
Last week, a woman visited St. Petersburg psychic Bill Linn. After 26 years with a company, she lost her job. She was three years from retirement.
"People today are living with a lot more insecurity problems," Linn said. "People are working with a lot of tension and stress. We are in a world of a lot of negativity. It's a crisis or a chaotic situation in our lives that really bring us to the forefront of, 'Well, why am I here, what am I doing, and how can I get out of it?'"
Is seeing a psychic the right springboard for that?
"There are all sorts of desperate people who don't realize that it's either a scam, or if the practitioner is deluded into thinking that they really do possess some sort of psychic power," said Gary Posner, leader of the Tampa Bay Skeptics, a group that studies paranormal claims. "There is just no good scientific evidence that any such powers exist."
True or not, others say there can be mental comfort in almost anything. "There is such a thing as a placebo effect," said Janet Greenwood, president of Greenwood Associates, a Tampa career counseling company. "People need to do what they feel will help them."
Indeed, many skeptics who have spent their lives distrusting psychics as charlatans have given it a go, paying $1 or more a minute for a reading.
"I'm getting a lot of that," said Marilyn Mackey, who reads tea leaves at Oak Trail Books in Palm Harbor. "They're very nervous. But I can see such a change in people in 15 minutes. It just gives them some hope. They say, 'Please tell me something good.' "
Lori Newlove said she can usually see about eight weeks into the future. She sees the job prospects, the babies, the marriage proposals (she never spoils the surprise there).
But life is not all rosy, and she sees that, too.
"If they say, 'Am I going to get a job in the next couple months?' and I don't see a job, I'll start giving career counseling, like, 'You can start looking in this area or that area,' " she said. "It's a tricky space because certainly, I want to be comforting, but I also want to be honest, and sometimes that's mutually exclusive."
• • •
Can the world still afford psychics?
Linn sees 90 percent of clients repeatedly, he said: local restaurant owners, artists, businessmen. They used to stay for as long as an hour and a half. Now, they might stay 30 minutes.
"The problem is, I've got as many people as I did when times were great, the only thing is that they're not spending as much time with me because they can't afford it," he said. Sometimes, he'll float people a session.
For some, psychic readings rank as a priority no matter what.
At Oak Trail Books, a woman came in during the cold snap and told Mackey she wanted to try a tea leaf reading. But her heating bill was so high, she couldn't afford it.
When it warmed up, she'd be back.
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8857.