Buy Used or Sell Used? More Recession Economics

As we wrote recently, a recession paradox in the used-book trade is that more customers appear to be selling (i.e. emptying their bookshelves for cash) than buying, no matter how many bargains abound. Now comes confirmation from Portland's Powell's Books, which has periodically held book-buying carnivals up here in Seattle. In a press release, the book store says:

"Powell's Books has purchased used books from its customers for more than thirty years, but never in its history has the iconic Oregon business matched the volume of the last six months. Used book buying counters are seeing a 15% increase in the number of book sellers, a jump that occurred just after the first market tumble in September 2008."

And I just heard another interesting local economic indicator, too, in the business of pre-owned merchandise...

Over beers at the Blue Star the other night, a friend of a friend was telling me about his experience selling used, rebuilt bicycles at last weekend's Seattle Bike Swap at Magnuson Park. That's what he does for a living, with bikes and other pre-owned goods, mostly over eBay. But last Saturday, he told me, he brought several nice, completely rebuilt commuter bikes to sell for the recession-friendly price of $50. "I did terribly," he told me. "Everyone was selling, not buying." You would think that with the economy in the tank, as many families are unloading their second car--or singles giving up their cars entirely, in favor of bike, bus, and ZipCar--a cheap, sturdy mountain bike with fenders would be an attractive purchase. You save gas money and burn calories at the same time, right? But instead, bike swap customers were holding onto their wallets. My bike selling source says he cut prices to $40 late in the day, but still came away from the event disappointed.

All of which makes me wonder how vendors will fare at the upcoming March 14-15 Bike Expo at Magnuson Park, where new equipment is the focus. When prices for the latest-model gear are necessarily higher, will customers be even more reluctant to spend?

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