So I went out to run a couple of errands tonight and as is my habit at this time of year, I stopped in at Crate & Barrel. It was about 6:30 in the evening, and Christmas Day is exactly two weeks from today, so imagine my surprise to see that except for holiday staff, Crate & Barrel at the Galleria was practically deserted. I have never seen it so empty in the evening, so close to Christmas. Out of curiosity, I stopped in at Pier I, a little over a block away. Same story there. On the way, I passed the brightly lit Container Store, and that, too, was strangely empty of shoppers. I also passed Restoration Hardware, but I didn't have to look inside to know RH is in major trouble. They've been holding their annual linen sale monthly, and I've stopped counting the number of emails I've received from them, imploring me to shop there. To be fair, these stores are across the street from the actual mall, and I didn't go into the mall, so I have no idea how crowded or not that was, but the absence of shoppers in these four stores, in this neighborhood, with less than 14 shopping days until Christmas, is depressing and ominous.
Not that I was about to spend lavishly myself. There's apparently some sort of weird inverse relationship between home values, homeowner's insurance, and real estate taxes that I wasn't aware of until now. Although my house is worth less than ever, my real estate taxes and homeowner's insurance have increased dramatically this year, a fact reflected grimly on my latest mortgage statement, which shows the increased payment that I'll need to make into the escrow account. And don't get me started on energy costs. I love my house, but for the first time in a very long time, I am seriously considering whether or not it's worth it to me to stay here. On the other hand, I would hardly make money selling it in this market, and I don't know where I'd move.
I'm not writing about this to elicit sympathy; I'm writing about it because this is happening all over America. I'm luckier than many people in that I have a job, and that job provides me with a good salary and decent, affordable health insurance for Mike and me...at least it does for now. But what about all the people who don't have that? To turn this economy, and this country, around is going to take time and work. I spent childhood Decembers impatiently waiting for Christmas, but this December all I can think is that January 20th can't come soon enough.