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Saturday, March 6, 2010

Is Dukes of Highland a better economic indicator?

I blogged here recently about the doom and gloom that I heard about the local economy and real estate at the local barbershop recently. Well I'm beginning to feel like that may be a trailing indicator of how things were, rather than how they are. Last night my wife and I visited one of our local eateries - Dukes of Highland. Dukes is the epitome of the upper Midwest, suburban neighborhood bar and grill. It serves good comfort food fare and has a bar that is popular with the locals, too. Nothing fancy, just good old American food at a fair price.

So, anyway, Dukes was hopping last night. It was as busy as we've seen it in a long time. I had the chance to talk to the owner, with whom I frequently exchange "how's business" remarks and he confirmed that business has been up lately. Now, if there's one sure indicator of how people feel about the economy and things in general, it shows in how many go out to eat on the weekends. During the depths of this current recession one could walk into Dukes on a Friday or Saturday night and get seated immediately - the place was literally only half full. Last night there was a waiting line. That's a good thing for Dukes and I believe it's a good indicator for the economy.

I'm not sure that the increase in business at Dukes and other local restaurants means that the recession is over, but I do think it means that the worst may be over and that people have learned to deal with the situation as it is and have decided to get on with life. Several restaurants in our local area didn't make it through this mess. We lost three local eateries right in Milford, all on Main Street. We also saw one of our more upscale restaurants change direction to accommodate a less expensive menu. Perhaps, as some of the survivors have told me, our restaurant scene was over saturated in Milford to begin with; still it was hard to watch the three places close down. The buildings are still empty, which shows that we are still somewhat in the grips of hard times. Of course both retail and office space is available in abundance right now, so a few empty restaurants is not all that unusual.

What does this all mean and how might it relate real estate in general? Well, we've all been looking for indicators that consumer confidence has returned and that people will start spending again - especially on houses. I hope that the recent increase in restaurant traffic is a leading indicator that American consumers are inching back into the market - one beer and meal at a time. Anybody need a house to go with that sandwich?

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