A front page article in the Wall Street Journal today describes the surge in business experienced by cobblers during this economic downturn. With the economy in recession, more people are choosing to have their old shoes repaired and resoled, rather than purchasing new ones. I've read similar articles over the past few weeks about auto mechanics. More people are choosing to repair old vehicles rather than purchasing new ones.
I was struck by these articles because this behavior represents such a stark break from the way in which we all began to treat more and more goods as "disposables" or "consummables" in recent years. When I was a child, people would have major electronic items such as TVs, cameras, or stereos repaired when they were broken. When my digital camera broke a few years ago, the retailer laughed at me when I asked about getting it repaired. He informed that the new technology was light years better than my old digital camera, and the cost of repair was nearly as high as the cost of buying a great new camera. As a nation, we simply stopped repairing things. We bought them, used them, and then went on to buy another one when the original broke. We witnessed the demise of the "repair shops" that used to be in every small town.
Will our behavior change as soon as the economy improves, or will we see a return to more frugal ways of the past? I would be inclined to think that behavior will change again as the economy gets better... which would be bad news for the cobblers!