Talking with shoe repairman David Seigfried, you'd never know there was a recession.
New customers have been coming into Camody Shoe Repair in
to get their heels hammered and soles sewn as other merchants saw their businesses walking out the door.
"For half the cost of a brand new pair of men's dress shoes, you can resole, reheel and reshine and you've got something nearly new," Siegfried said.
When money's tight and a budget has to stretch a little further, the shoe repair business, and other niche professions, are turning customers' thriftiness into business.
The recession-proof profession may be a myth, said Bob Thornton, a professor of economics at
, but some jobs certainly fare better than others in an economic downturn.
Debt collection, thrift and resale shops and even some types of criminal activity seem to flourish when everyone else is losing their shirt, Thornton said.
"You see less of the repo man when things get better," he said.
Economists call such jobs counter-cyclical, he said, and although a dedicated base of customers may always turn to their neighborhood shoe repairman, more have embraced the idea since the bottom dropped out of the economy.
"It's hard to find a good shoe repairman," Thornton said. "Their business is booming, I would think."
Maybe not booming, Siegfried said, but since the economy nosedived, he has seen an influx of work.
On an average day, Camody Shoe Repair fixes about 35 pairs of shoes -- that's a dozen more pairs than Siegfried saw before the recession.
He's also noticed his customer base is getting younger.
"They are doing this on their own, going out and searching for shoe repair," he said.
But it's not just repairmen who have seen steady business; the recession has also kept business pouring in for the undertakers of the economy -- bankruptcy attorneys.
Bankruptcy filings went up 34 percent between January 2008 and 2009, according to the National Bankruptcy Center.
"Unfortunately, when the economy does poorly, you have a lot of businesses that don't do well," said Paul Schoff, an attorney for Schoff McCabe, P.C. of Allentown and
When businesses aren't doing well, bankruptcy attorneys get busy.
In his commercial bankruptcy specialty, the recession has brought a certain creativity in the industry.
For Schoff, that creativity helped him launch his own business venture, Avignon Private Equity, which matches individuals with high net worth with business owners who need a guarantee of a certain debt.
Many companies who are on the edge of becoming successful or are already successful need a guarantor to secure a higher line of credit or a new term loan, Schoff said. In exchange, the guarantor receives equity in the new business. Avignon is paid a fee based on the percentage of the deal, he said.
Charles Laputka, a bankruptcy attorney on the consumer side, has charted the rise of the same creativity.
"It used to be that bankruptcy was the best or only way, but these days, loan modification and other workout options, that's what we try to do first," Laputka said.
Bankruptcy is a bank's worst nightmare because often arrears are not paid off for five years and it still has a high failure rate, he said.
The swell of business made it possible for Laputka to leave a large firm in 2008 and achieve success on his own in less than three years.
"It probably would have taken twice as long, five years instead of two and a half," he said.
Recessions tend to bring out the entrepreneurs, said Todd Watkins, the director of the Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship at Lehigh University.
Big businesses launched during recessions have become household names -- think
, Trader Joe's or
"If you have a job, it's a risk starting your own business," Watkins said. "If you don't have a job, you may try something you wouldn't have done."
Statistics show there are 25 percent more start-ups now than in 2006, he said, but the rate of failure for start-ups is higher in a recession.
After more than two decades in the pizza business, George Khoury went out on his own last year.
"Of course you are nervous, it's a lot of competition out there," Khoury said. "But yes, I took a chance."
He said the excellent food and well-trained staff has helped make his restaurant George's Pizza on
a success. But customers have really embraced his homage to the money-saving mood of the recession.
At George's Pizza, you can bring your own bottle of wine, enabling you to pay liquor store prices instead of high restaurant costs. He offers a recession special -- a $5 personal pizza with one topping. And he's found an untapped market -- gluten-free pastas and pizzas.
"No other people have that kind of specialty, so I decided if I can get it, you can have it," he said.
Like Khoury, the founders of a new boutique in
have hit upon people's desire for quality goods that won't break the bank.
Twice Chic Boutique, 319 Cattell Street on College Hill, aims to reach shoppers who want quality clothing at a fraction of department store prices.
Consigners can bring in clothes that they no longer wear for sale for 90 days. If the clothes sell, the store gets 50 percent and the consigner gets 50 percent. If they don't sell, the clothes can be donated or returned.
"A win-win for everyone," founder Tamara Wells said.
Since the store's soft launch in December, she and her partner, Saundra Henderson, have enticed 62 consigners on board and have had to expand their wares into three rooms.
So far, she said, "the response has been overwhelming."
Besides counter-cyclical jobs that do well when others often aren't performing, Thornton said other essential jobs often hold up under economic pressure.
Funeral services, health care professions, law enforcement and politicians aren't likely to see their professions take a huge hit even when the unemployment rate is rising, he said.