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Aqua Magazine - July 1991

New York State of Mind: Depressed
Written by Lisa Howard

It’s a school of hard knocks along the Eastern Seaboard, where the recession hit first and has not eased its grip. Through it, in the suburbs of a near-insolvent New York City, Dan Harrison tries to sell spas.

Harrison’s company, Long Island Hot Tubs, has been the biggest dealer on the island since 1982, he says. But while that used to mean he sold 120 to 200 spas a year, this year it means he’s sold fewer than 30. A recent show at a local mall netted him a total of two sales.

"My showroom used to be full of potential shoppers," Harrison says. "Now I’m lucky if I get 15 or 30 couples looking to buy a week".  People are strapped. Not as many Long Islanders as before have jobs on Wall Street to commute to —that industry has been cutting back for nearly four years. Times are lean as well for another major area employer: Grumman, the big defense contractor.

The shocks ripple through the whole economy. During plusher times the area was a "small business heaven," Harrison says, and the owners of those small businesses — delis and bagel shops and the like — were the best hot-tub customers. But these days the small businesses are gone. Long Island Hot Tubs, located on one of the main roads of Centereach, N.Y., is surrounded by desolate, half-vacant shopping centers. It’s like a scene from the Great Depression. Or as Harrison puts it, "Things are black and white here." And it’s as bad for pools, he says, as for spas: "Guys who sold a hundred a year now are selling six."

But bad as conditions are, there’s one undeniable bright spot: Harri-son is still in business. The reces-sion has him down, but not out. He’s found the same savior other sur-nvors In the industry have. Using a computerized system that tracks his buyers and leads, he sends cus-tomers and potential customers a newsletter highlighting Long Island Spa’s aftermarket services.

That’s what has kept us going," Harrison says. "We’re living on the service dollar to pay the bills." He’s also selling a lot of spa covers.  Selling spa covers and waiting out the recession. Harrison doesn’t see any end to it. For all the talk about the importance of consumer confidence, it’s not confidence he thinks is in short supply —it’s cash. "People are so debt-ridden now I can’t see how the recession can end," he says. He’s had buyers who were plenty willing, but lacked the backing.

‘The first week of the war, we sold Four hot tubs," Harrison recalls. I thought for a minute it was the end of the recession-" But then the deals started falling through, and he had to revise his opinion.

Harrison stands in his showroom, Full of hot tubs. It’s an extraordiary selection, but what use is a showroom if there’s no one to show term to? "The merchandise is getting dusty," Harrison laments. "It’s very sad."   .

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