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End of an era of consumer spending

As consumers tighten their wallets, there will be fewer restaurants and shopping malls. That could mean the end of shopping as a recreational activity.

While the Great Depression influenced spending habits for an entire generation, economists aren’t sure how this recession will affect consumers in the long run.

“That’s the huge wild card in all of this,” said Don Schunk, a Coastal Carolina University research economist. “No one really knows becausewe don’t go through this all that often.”

In the past six months, however, spending has dropped. As a result, restaurants and retailers are suffering, Schunk said.

People also are scaling back on the size of their homes.

The restaurant and retail industries overbuilt during the boom years between 2003 and 2007, Schunk said.

“We got way ahead of ourselves,” he said. “When you see chains going bankrupt and retail stores closing that ... means we had more than we needed.”

Even consumers who can afford large homes and expensive shoes are cutting back. The recession is forcing everyone to question how much they really need, Schunk said.

“We’re at a point where people just aren’t enjoying shopping as much as they were,” he said.

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END OF SHOP TILL YOU DROP

When consumers stop spending, restaurants and retailers cut jobs. South Carolina’s recent jobless statistics reflect that grim reality. As for the future? Some economists are doubtful consumers will return to the eateries and malls with their once famous shop-till-youdrop abandon once the economy recovers. A look at the recent toll:

12,900: Number of retail jobs lost statewide from March 2008 to March of this year

13,900: Number of restaurant and bar jobs lost statewide during that same period

Dearly departed: National retailers who left Columbia last year after going bankrupt, included Circuit City, Steve & Barry’s and Linens ’N Things

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