Albertans cut back on frills during hard times

The deep rivers of cash that were flowing down Calgary streets during the height of the oil boom have dwindled in the current recession and that has meant hard times for businesses that cater to the money-is-no-object Albertan.

Alastair Richards

CALGARY — The deep rivers of cash that were flowing down Calgary streets during the height of the oil boom have dwindled in the current recession and that has meant hard times for businesses that cater to the money-is-no-object Albertan.

Must-haves have suddenly turned into maybe-laters and that’s putting the pinch on businessmen such as Alastair Richards.

“People’s toys are, like, the first things to go when they’re not working or don’t have much money,” sighed Richards, the owner of Off-road Motorsports, which sells motorcycles, quads, and other off-road vehicles near DeWinton, just south of Calgary.

Business in the past year has dropped off by 55 per cent from the nearly $1 million in sales he made in 2007 — the height of the oil boom.

“It does suck. Pretty much all of last year did,” he said.

“Things will pick up. The one thing that still sells is the kids’ quads because of birthdays, Christmas and things like that — they still get their kids something. The kids still get their stuff but Dad doesn’t get his.”

Even visits to the hair salon and spas are taking a hit.

People are still getting their hair cut, but it’s the little things that are being sacrificed.

“I would rather give up food than my hairdresser,” said Anne Johnson, 24, as she left one Calgary hair salon. “But I did have to give up the highlights. They’re just a little bit too pricey right now.”

Merlin Atkins, who owns Studio Sassy Hair Design, said she is seeing some of her regular clients every eight weeks instead of every four and more people are looking for bargains.

“There’s a lot of shopping around and if it’s too high they won’t do it,” said Atkins.

“It’s not as much as before. We also do weaves and extensions as well and that’s kind of slowed down, too, and they’re watching the price on it also.”

At the high-end SwizzleSticks Salon Spa, hair appointments remain at usual levels said chief executive Ross Hahn. But there are sacrifices being made when it comes to pampering.

“Do people come in as often for massage — yes; for facials — maybe not; for manicures — definitely not. ‘I’ll do my own,”’ he chuckled.

“We’ve been losing some business in things that are really unnecessary.”

The cosmetic surgery industry is feeling the pinch, too, as youth-obsessed baby boomers count their pennies.

There are 20 plastic surgeons serving Calgary, which boasts a population of more than one million.

“My waiting list, which used to be more than a year, is down to a few months,” said Dr. Dale Birdsell, who specializes in facial cosmetic surgery. “It was ridiculously long before.”

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