Who wins in this bad economy?

Peter Reuell

As investors, retirees, homeowners, homebuyers and business owners wait and worry about how, and whether, the economy will recover, another question surfaces: Who's winning?

When the economy takes a sudden nosedive, does anyone win?

"I think there are (winners,)" said Jim Post, a professor of management at Boston University. "Anytime you have significant change in the economy, it's going to create both winners and losers."

When it comes to picking winners in today's economy, Post said, some are easier to spot than others.

"Liquidators clearly win," he said. "(I think) places like auto repair shops win, because rather than buying new cars people are going to try to keep that automobile running for an extra year."

While the hiring freeze ordered by his university's president may signal tough times for higher education, Post sees an opportunity for part-time faculty and staff.

"While there's going to be a freeze at one level, there's going to be opportunities for people who have the skills and have the flexibility to come in and perform some of these part-time jobs," he said.

Post also predicted a boom in businesses that deal with individual debt, like bankruptcy attorneys and collection agencies.

"Oh, yes, we have a lot more," said Framingham bankruptcy lawyer Anthony Buono. "We're (handling) several a day."

In the last year, Buono estimated, business has tripled as more and more people declare bankruptcy, or seek help in getting out from under mountains of debt.

"I get two or three calls a day," he said. "There are three major reasons for people coming to me.

"The first is illness and job loss. It's my experience most people are living month to month. The second reason is the tightening of credit...and the other reason is falling house values."

At temporary staffing agencies like MMD Temps in Natick, business is not booming - yet.

"We're seeing a steady state; (business hasn't) dipped or increased," said MMD's president, Bob McInturff.

If the economic downturn persists, however, McInturff said business could pick up as companies rely more on temporary workers.

"People are going to be very cautious," he said. "The need is still going to be there, and companies do turn to us in those situations, so I think we're going to be OK."

A prolonged downturn, or further upheaval in the credit market, however, could spell trouble even for temporary workers.

If the market for short-term credit collapses, McInturff said, some temp agencies could find themselves unable to pay workers, since most rely on short-term credit for their payrolls.

Long-term economic woes may also force companies to cut back on temporary workers, he said.

At least one company that might be expected to do well through an economic downturn said it is among those hurting.

"I wish I could tell you I had an upbeat story for you," said Jerry Ellis, co-founder of Building 19. "I've been at this for 45 years, and usually when the economy hits hard times my business increases dramatically.

"I'm still hoping that's going to happen, but it hasn't happened yet. My guess is right now everybody's just too frightened. Once the fear is gone, we'll make the adjustments, as we have so many, many, many times."

Overall, Ellis said, sales this year are slightly behind past years, but much of the company's success depends on finding bargains they can pass onto consumers.

"We are really opportunists," he said. "If we can't buy bona fide bargains, we can't sell bona fide bargains. My guess is there's going to be some great bargains available to us."

Although it may be more of a sign of just how deep fears about the economy are, George Falzone, owner of G. Falzone and Co. in Holliston, recently put a sign in his window that said, "We Buy Gold."

It wasn't long before Falzone had plenty of takers.

In recent months, the jewelry store bought thousands of dollars in gold jewelry from customers, and shipped it to a refiner to reclaim the gold.

"We've done pretty well with it," Falzone said. "My store is a dinky little store, and we were doing $10,000 a week. That's a lot."

At least some of the sales were by people taking advantage of sky-high gold prices, but Falzone believes at least some simply needed the money.

"I think people can always use the money," he said. "Who's going to say no to extra cash?"

Peter Reuell can be reached at 508-626-4428 or

The MetroWest Daily News