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- 10/16/2008 by MEGAN K. SCOTT
NEW YORK (AP) - Like many women, Elaine Ingram loves to pamper herself: manicures and pedicures, massages, perms and cuts.
But with a drained 401(k) and high gas and food prices, all of that became too expensive for the 74-year-old Indianapolis resident.
So six months ago, she started going to Honors Beauty College, where services are 50 percent cheaper than traditional salons.
"The students are very eager and enthusiastic about what they are doing," said Ingram. "So they are very, very attentive to what you want done and what your needs are. You really get a lot of pampering."
In a tough economic climate, many companies falter, as the price of doing business goes up and worried consumers reduce spending. According to the Commerce Department, retail sales have fallen three consecutive months.
But there are always those that benefit when times get tough, whether it's public transportation or a bankruptcy law firm.
"We call bad times bad times for a reason," said Jeff Humphreys, director of the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia. "Most companies don't do well. There are always exceptions."
John Halal, president of Honors Beauty College, said customer counts and enrollment is up, which is helping to offset rising costs. Guest services cover a third of the school's expenses, he said.
And Don Yearwood, president and CEO of Carousel Beauty Colleges in Ohio, said he saw a 20 to 25 percent increase in student salon service business from late spring to summer.
Hair and nail services are some of the least expensive, feel good type of things someone can do for herself, he said.
"Those are all things people can afford to do even if they can't afford to buy the big ticket item," said Yearwood. "The student salon is a great option in terms of quality services at a lower price."
Libraries across the country are reporting significant increases in circulation and usage. Many say summers were especially busy as families skipped vacation plans and stayed close to home.
At Arlington Heights Memorial Library in Illinois, magazine checkouts increased 26 percent in the last year; children's DVD checkouts increased 19.5 percent, and the library saw a 21 percent increase in computer room use.
"We don't have any specific conclusions that yes people are here more because it's more economical to use the library," said Debora Whisler, spokeswoman. "But our circulation monthly statistics are through the roof."
Dionne Mack-Harvin, executive director of Brooklyn Public Library, said the library saw a 12 percent increase in circulation in September 2008 compared with September 2007. The library had not seen double digit percentage increases in circulation in several years, she said.
She said many more professionals and seniors returning to the work force are coming in for career help.
Keith Kuder, 24, of Provo, Utah, said he and his roommates canceled their Internet service and now use it at their college library or the local library. He also goes there to read magazines rather than subscribing to them.
"We're all crunching because of the economy," he said.
Some Web sites are seeing increased traffic as well, as people search for bargains.
Hitwise reported in June that traffic to Coupons.com had increased 190 percent since 2007. Consumers printed more than $33 million in coupon savings in September, a more than 25 percent increase from August, according to the site.
Ebates.com, a cash back service, has seen a 100 percent increase in traffic in the past couple of weeks, according to Kevin Johnson, CEO, and sign ups have increased 65 percent over this time last year. Ebates members earn cash back on purchases made through the more than 1,000 stores available on the site.
And Richard Pickering of PaperBackSwap, SwapaCD and SwapaDVD said his sites are averaging 40,000 trades a week and growing. There are currently no membership fees and transaction fees. Members pay the cost of U.S. postage.
"It's all about how can I cut back," said Pickering. "What else can I possibly do to provide entertainment for my family?"
That translates to clothes and accessories as well.
In an industry trade group survey of more than 200 resale and thrift shops, nearly two-thirds of those businesses reported higher sales in 2008 compared to the previous year. The average sales increase was 35 percent.
Laurie Yost, owner of Now Wear This! in Elizabethtown, Pa., said she wasn't prepared for the "enormous influx" of people who want to consign to make some extra cash. The store cut its advertising budget almost in half this year.
On the other end, she is seeing a "tremendous amount" of new shoppers, who are searching for bargains on winter clothes. Discounts range from 40 to 90 percent of the retail price.
"It wasn't something we forecasted," said Yost referring to how busy the shop has been. "It's good. It's hard to complain. This is exciting for us."
(Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)