No bailout necessary

Nine businesses that are thriving despite the recession

The Psychic Eye’s Robert Leysen
Photo: Jacob Kepler
Kate Silver

If we hadn’t all just bought our shiny, new digital TVs, we’d be pretty tempted to bash them in and stop Suze Orman from making us hate ourselves even more.

With all the “blah blah blah doom” and the “banter smile snicker nod gloom,” taking a hammer to the tube sounds pretty satisfying right about now, had those wholesome news anchors not just reminded us that we simply can’t afford such violent luxuries anymore. Spontaneous television-bashing is sooo 2007, before the depression, er, recession, er, repression, er, pudding-filled sinkhole we’ve gotten ourselves stuck in.

But contrary to the news/radio/Twitter reports, we’re not all contemplating our razor blades. In fact, there are businesses out there that are actually doing well right now—and not just the bankruptcy lawyers, repo men, risk-management consultants and headhunters. We took a temperature reading across town and found a sampling of places that are doing well in spite of (and sometimes because of) the economy.

From psychics to gun peddlers to bar and restaurant owners, there is hope out there. And it doesn’t necessarily revolve around the gospel of Orman.

Glen Parshall of Bargain Pawn

Guns + coins + loans + pawn = Success

Bargain Pawn Inc., 1901 Las Vegas Blvd. N., 399-9950

If you’re preparing for the End Times, or even just the hard times, hie thee over to Bargain Pawn Inc. Not only is it a pawn shop and payday loan depot, but it’s also a gun store (new and secondhand) that usually carries coins—two valuable commodities for those who fear government has, or soon will, run amok.

“We’ve been strumming right along,” says Glen Parshall, who runs the gun and coin side of this locally owned pawn shop. “Guns have been selling unbelievably. I’ve been here since ’82, and I’ve never seen the kind of market we’ve got now.” Most of his gun distributors are actually out of stock, and Parshall says he has a heck of a time filling orders.

While that’s due, in part, to the fear of President-elect Barack Obama banning guns, Parshall attributes the increase primarily to the economy. “Every time there’s a downturn in the economy you have crime going up, and you have a lot more people coming in to get guns,” he says. (Although in Las Vegas’ case, robbery, burglary and automobile-theft rates all decreased last year.)

There’s also been a run on gold and silver. So much so that Parshall can’t even keep coins in stock. “Everybody wants to get rid of paper dollars,” he says. “Everybody’s afraid of banks and the governments and those kinds of things, and they want to have an asset that has value.”

The store’s payday loan and pawn services have also seen an increase in business, and Parshall says that because of the increased supply of items they’ve become more selective about what they accept.

Dino's owner Kristin Bartolo.

Liquor is quicker

Dino’s, 516 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 382-3894

Since 1960 Dino’s has been an eccentric but steady mainstay on the dive-bar circuit. As Downtown bars close down around it (most recently Art Bar, Ice House, Willy’s and Jillian’s), Dino’s mug slosheth over. When it comes to drinking, owner Kristin Bartolo estimates that she’s selling nearly 30 percent more than in the past (at the same time, gambling is down 20-30 percent). In recent months she’s brought on two new bartenders to help out, increasing her staff from five to seven. She’s also hired a doorman to check IDs.

“Our Friday and Saturday nights are so busy because I don’t think people can afford to go to the club and pay for bottle service or $12 for a beer. They can have just as much fun if they come here, where it’s $3 for a beer and $5 for Jäger.”

A small price to pay, considering the endless stream of entertainment at Dino’s, from the tooth-impaired barflies mixing with youthful hipsters to the crooning of karaoke master Danny G and his loyal following.

Visualizing wealth

Psychics at The Psychic Eye Book Shops, Multiple locations, 451-5777

If given the choice of a forecast by an economist or a psychic, what would you choose? The latter is actually a pretty popular option. People want a nice dose of hope and positivity, and they’re willing to pay for it. Robert Leysen, who owns The Psychic Eye Book Shops, has seen (paid) phone calls to psychics rise dramatically, while visits to psychics have remained constant.

“People come in and they just want somebody that they can talk to and open up with,” says Leysen. “I think it’s inexpensive psychiatric counseling.”

Leysen owns stores in California and Nevada, four of which are in Las Vegas. His newest location, on South Eastern, opened in December. He’s hired eight people to work in that location, two of whom staff the store and the rest of whom are psychics.

Check it out

Las Vegas-Clark County Library District, Various locations, 734-7323

In good times it’s easy to forget the ol’ library. But in bad times, it’s like that reliable old friend who doesn’t hold a grudge about being forgotten. Libraries across the Valley are having a great year in terms of visitors. As of November there was an 11 percent increase in circulation over last year, an 8 percent increase in people visiting the library, a 20 percent increase in attendance at children’s programs and a 16 percent increase in attendance at adult programs. Why? It’s free.

“I attribute it to the fact that people don’t have that disposable income, as we’re reading all over the paper,” says Robb Morss, deputy director for the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District. “People are tightening their belts and putting away for a rainy day just in case something should happen. And so coming to the library you can check out the materials for free, you can get books for free, you don’t have to go to the bookstore and buy them.”

But while a library visit may save money for the visitor, it’s not exactly doing anything to help the library financially. Still, Morss says they’re doing okay. “We’re living within our means, and we have for the last few years, even when things were great in the Valley,” he says. In fact, January 10 the library opened its first new library in a decade, in Centennial Hills. Though they haven’t hired anyone new to staff it, Morss says the district will hire 25-30 full-time employees when the next branch opens at Rainbow and 215 in 2011.

John Gafford of Shelton Gafford Real Estate Services

Real estate’s flip side

Shelton Gafford Real Estate Services, 4350 E. Sunset Road, Suite 201, 728-0311

Before he ever went on the third season of The Apprentice, John Gafford knew that the secret to business was flexibility and foresight. Thanks to his enterprising nature, 2008 has been a record year for Shelton Gafford Real Estate Services. By focusing on short sales and foreclosures, the group has grossed 1,000 percent more this year than any other.

“We try to be really proactive as far as staying ahead of the market,” says Gafford. “We got into the short-sale business over a year ago when we found that people started having problems. We saw an opportunity there to not only help people but to make money.”

Soon after, he took note of all the foreclosures surfacing. Now, foreclosure sales make up a large part of the group’s business, too. Those properties are priced low and generally sell before you can say “recession.”

“The majority of our listings aren’t on the market for longer than about a week,” says Gafford.

He knows these patterns won’t last forever, and he’s always looking for the next trend.

“When this is over we’ll transition into something else,” he says. “The secret to being successful in real estate is you have to try to stay ahead of the market.”

Complete collection

Nevada Association Services Inc., 6224 W. Desert Inn Road, 804-8885

Nevada Association Services Inc. is a collections agency with a heart. Owner David Stone represents homeowners associations who are owed money by homeowners. With more properties going into foreclosure and homeowners going delinquent on payments, Stone’s seen his workload swell. He knows that collections companies don’t make a whole lot of friends, even in good economic times. That’s why he takes NAS a step further, focusing on “work-out” programs and foreclosure-avoidance whenever possible. In fact, he’s increased his workforce by 15 percent, hiring on more help with the “work-out” programs.

“Our plea to the homeowner is contact us, let’s work something out. Our plea to the association is please allow us to contact and work something out with these homeowners. And the success has just been incredible,” says Stone. “The bottom line is, the people who are delinquent for the associations are seeing a higher rate of payments than we did ever before.”

Securing the perimeter

Sting Surveillance, 5 Longevity Drive, Henderson, 737-8464

So our future may be unstable. That doesn’t mean our homes have to be. That’s the message that Jonathan Fine has heard loud and clear at his company, Sting Surveillance. Year over year, Fine’s business is up 300 percent.

“It picked up about eight months ago, majorly, because of a lot of break-ins, a lot of repossessions in neighborhoods, houses sitting vacant. So people that are in the neighborhood are putting cameras out, they’re installing alarms.”

But while residential security is on the rise, small-business security is lagging, since fewer new businesses are opening. Still, Fine is happy to be of help in the residential niche. In the last few months his company has grown from 65 employees to nearly 80.

Economic hunger

Marche Bacchus, 2620 Regatta Drive, No. 106, 804-8008

Marche Bacchus owner Jeff Wyatt was pleasantly surprised to discover that the restaurant’s gross revenue for recession-tossed 2008 was just over 40 percent higher than the previous year’s.

“We’re very happy, that’s for sure,” he smiles.

The neighborhood favorite serves delectable food prepared by Executive Chef Jean Paul Labadie, who left Emeril Lagasse’s Table Ten at Palazzo.

Between its romantic lakeside setting and its affordable wine selection from its own wine shop, there’s nothing else like Marche Bacchus in town. Because the wine is sold at retail (with a $10 “restaurant” fee), rather than at a steep markup, it’s a recession-style deal (note: prices will remain the same once the recession ends).

Though he’s seen a slight decline in his lunch crowd, Wyatt says that those who are foregoing the midday meal are making it up at dinnertime. That’s good news for him, since entrees are slightly larger and prices slightly higher in the evening.

The best medicine

Improv at Harrah’s, 3475 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 369-5223

Comedy clubs are escapism without the hangover, and they offer some of the best deals in town. That’s why places like the Improv at Harrah’s haven’t taken the hit we’ve seen elsewhere on the Strip.

“We have a very reasonable price point [$31] and currently offer a two-for-one ticket special for locals,” says Improv co-owner Mark Lonow. “In times of economic depression, laughing feels good. The Improv offers both locals and tourists a place to escape for an hour or so and forget about their troubles, laugh and have a good time, all at the perfect price.”


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