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Jul. 14 2009 - 10:37 pm | 7 views | 0 recommendations | 2 comments

This is The Sound of Recession…Salvation Army Bells in July


I heard the sound tonight in the food court of The Westchester, an upscale mall in White Plains, NY, where manicured shoppers browse costly stores like Neiman-Marcus, Barney’s, Tiffany and Gucci, cruising the usual suspects of conspicuous consumption. It costs $9 to park for five hours at this mall. The parking lot is always jammed with Mercedes, Lexuses, Range Rovers and Escalades, many of them with the license plates from nearby Connecticut, where the still-wealthy enjoy a 20 minute drive from enclaves like Greenwich, Darien and Westport.

Bells. Bells in…July?

Two older women were sitting there, volunteers ringing the Salvation Army bells, a sound we’re used to Christmas but I’ve never heard out of season. It’s never been done out of season in 35 years.

Turns out, no surprise to anyone who lives in the New York City area, where subway and train fares and tolls recently went up yet again and where the maximum weekly unemployment payment is a fat $405, this is the first time in three decades that the Sally Ann — as it’s known in Canada — has put out their kettles mid-summer.

It’s a week-long drive, and one they hope will alleviate the double whammy of huge demand for their services and a drop-off in donations.

I watched a squealing gang of eight-year-olds holding a birthday party a few tables away from the kettle and those jingling bells. Squeals of joy, bells of despair. That’s the sound of recession.


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    About Me

    Former reporter and feature writer for the Globe and Mail, Montreal Gazette and the New York Daily News. Winner of a Canadian National Magazine Award (humor) about -- what else -- my divorce. I've been writing frequently for The New York Times since 1990 on almost any subject you can think of -- yup, I'm a generalist. Author of "Blown Away: American Women and Guns" (Pocket Books 2004). Canadian born, raised and formally educated, I've lived in New York since 1989.

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    I’m writing my second book, a memoir for Portfolio/Penguin, of working retail in a suburban mall for more than two years. My 11 Reporting Tips from daily newspaper veterans appears in the May issue of The Writer magazine.

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