Special Segment: Little Luxuries

October 10, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Savvy shop owners can see we need a break. Our budgets may not allow us to indulge in the big ticket items, but a small indulgence can be in reach.

Have you been tempted lately by a little sweet? Shops catering to small pleasures appear to satiate the appetite in a tight economy.

The owner of Sugar Bliss Cake Boutique was an investment banker who discovered the healing properties of baking and eating baked goods for herself. Teresa Ging opened her shop on Wabash in the depths of the recession. And it seems the deeper the woes, the more customers dive into cupcakes.

"When they come in they're like, oh, I'm having a bad day. They'll get a mini, then by the time they walk out they're happy and forget about what's going on in the outside world," said Ging.

"It's a smaller burden on my pocket, but I'm still very happy after I eat one," said Kim Swift.

Sugar Bliss is opening a second store this week.

During the great depression, the term lipstick effect was coined when industrial production was cut in half but cosmetic sales rose.

Fast forward to 2011. Ulta, the nation's largest beauty retailer, has seen a 22-percent increase in sales and just opened 21 new stores. That's evidence that times may have changed but human behavior has not.

"Three dollars is not a big deal in the sense of the big picture, but it really gives them something to go out and be able to purchase something that gives them immediate gratification," said Art Angel, retail research director, LIS Strategic Research.

Angel sees customers craving little pleasures and businesses helping achieve that momentary comfort rewarded.

"Consumers will spend less on day to day consumption but they may go out and buy a fancy new collar for their dog because it makes them feel better," said Angel.

Starfruit's offerings catch the attention of passersby. The frozen dessert is similar to frozen yogurt but promotes nutritional value of kefir. The sweet nourishment finds a way into the budget for regulars.

"When you spend like $6 on a treat you don't really have to budget for it. When you go to Hawaii and spend six grand you do," said Kalli Whitfield.

The recession proved to be the right time for Starfruit to expand, opening four stores in the Chicago area in the last three years.

"We've found that people are willing to spend the money because it's more of a healthier item," said Todd West, Starfruit.

Some other little luxuries: Halloween costumes. They are certainly not necessities, but seeing kids in an adorable costumes can be affordable. Some people even put their pet in costume.

While nail care is a healthy practice, indulging in a manicure is a little excess that may not bust the budget.

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