I have always wanted to see the fall foliage in New England; a chance to witness first hand the autumn leaves at their most majestic. The deep blood red color of the Maple leaf framed with golden browns and yellow of the Oaks and American Beech. It is sobering to remember such beauty actually signals the dying of the leaves.
Anyway, over the years every attempt to be here for this fiesta of colors has failed. Sometimes I forgot the date and it was all over before I could make arrangements. Other times I would talk about it but never actually get round to booking a ticket. This year I was determined. I would make it to New England to see the leaves changing.
Finally I have spent much last week driving around the beautiful States of Rhode Island and Massachusetts marveling at the colors, stopping on the way to watch nature’s show and tell.
This has also given me a chance to catch up on the economy of this part of the world. The irony is not lost that while the revolving season moves towards the bleakest time of the year, the economic season is shifting in the opposite direction. Outside, the weather may be heading towards winter, but economically the green shoots are supposed to be sprouting. But is there any actual evidence?
I had expected the Wednesday early morning flight from London to Washington to be empty. Who on earth flies at 8 am, I reasoned? Apparently a lot of people. There was not a spare seat on board. Of course, the ticket’s taxes were more than the cost of the flight itself, so I doubt the airline made much money. In Newport, Rhode Island, I was told that a couple of hundred stores would not re-open their doors after the winter. Yet at the Victorian Ladies Inn, the charming bed and breakfast where I stayed, there seemed to be no shortage of guests willing to pay more than $120 a night for the local flavor.
Perhaps I got my best glimpse of the changing economic seasons when I visited one of the largest retail outlet malls in the area. Outlet malls originally were where brand-named stores got rid of over-stock or less than perfect items. Now they have become a retailing phenomenon in their own right. There are dozens of stores. Burberry sits next to Coach which is across from the Gap and Calvin Klein. All offer their goods up to 50 percent off normal retail prices.
The parking lot was full. The shops were packed. The queue waiting to pay at Gap was at least 20 minutes long. It spoke volumes. Shoppers are slowly starting to shop again, but they are being much more choosy about how and where they spend their money. People are prepared to spend, but want to make sure they are getting value for money.
All of this will be well known to those familiar with the seasons. Take squirrels for instance. They will have stored their food and nuts for the cold winter months, and although they don’t officially hibernate, they will be very choosy about when they come out and how they will use up their precious resources.
Now having seen that rare breed of animal, the Shopaholic Americanus at close quarters, I can suggest that this trend will continue. Low interest rates will funnel money into consumers’ pockets, which will be spent judiciously in the months ahead long after those glorious autumn leaves have disappeared, to be replaced by winter months and lots of snow.