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Booming Businesses

Marcella Raymond - Reporter
Pam Grimes - Producer
Mike D'Angelo, Steve Scheuer, Nelson Howard, Kevin Dalton - Photojournalists

April 13, 2009

Actually, we thought we might be on mission impossible, trying to find booming businesses in this weak economy. Turns out, we had the opposite problem. They may not be corporate giants, but each has a success story, and a few surprises. If the economy has tanked… then why are Abt electronics sales up?

General manager Marc Cook says, "At a time when everybody in the world is saying that everything's down and the recession and all that, we actually did better at our last February sale than the year before."

A full 20-percent better!

Shopper James Rogers couldn't believe his eyes. "I'm really surprised at the amount of people here with all that going on. It's just good to look."

But they're not just *looking. Abt's General Manager says people are being a bit more conservative, maybe settling for smaller TVS, but they're definitely buying.

"I think people are really more used to the idea that they're gonna be entertaining themselves at home more consistantly."

Other big Abt sellers, chest freezers and GPS. People can buy in bulk and save. And shoppers say they'll swap air travel this summer for road trips.

Roosevelt road in Wheaton is a vivid example of two sides of the auto story. There are vacant showrooms right next to auto repair places that are having trouble keeping up. Mechanic Dan Heitschmidt keeps people moving.

"Can't complain. People are fixing their cars, they're spending money."

He says he's now fixing cars that are an average of nine to twelve years old.

"They're not buying new ones, they're fixing up their old ones. Some of the families around here have maybe 3-4-&5 cars."

The same is true for home repair, bike repair, and shoe repair, all booming.

Education, specialty schools, and community colleges are also doing well. People who can't find work are going back to school says Joan Hannant, Founder and President of the Soma Institute in Chicago, a clinical massage school with a focus on healing.

"Whenever there's a downturn, adult education tends to be on the upswing."

Hannant's enrollment is up 20% and they're just moved into new offices, triple the size of their old space. Even she is surprised at Soma's 96% job placement rate.

"Everyone's looking for some kind of sign of hope, some sign of growth and during this time, there's this great opportunity to really reinvent yourself and start to do something that you really want to do."

Student Teresa Castangna isn't worried about finding a job. "When we graduate next January, I'm sure there'll be something waiting."

Whether you're looking to change careers, or just find a job, Chicago Public Library Commissioner Mary Dempsey says they can help.

"What we're seeing though now is people rediscovering a resource that they're already paying for with their tax dollars, and it's in their neighborhood, and they have welcoming to them."

The library has seen a 40% increase in usage over last year. Carlos Peret lost his job in January and comes into the library almost daily.

"I thought it was gonna be just go in and fend for yourself. But they were able to provide me really kind of a one-on-one, here are all the resources, how to best use them and even how to access them from home."

He loves the inter library loan program, where you can request almost anything and have it delivered to your local library branch, usually within 48 hours.

The library now has 22-hundred, state-of-the art computers in their 79 branches… all free for the public to use.

CyberNavigators like Zachary McMahon are currently the most popular guys in the room.

"You can't walk up to someone and hand them your resume anymore. You have to send it thru email. And so I have a lot of people come up to me with a paper copy of their resume and they need to get it into the compVERYONE IN THE CITY AND SUBURBS - ANYONE IN THE *WORLD REALLY- CAN USE THE LIBRARY SERVICES FOR FREE. uter."

And when they don't come back, McMahon assumes the best, that the job search worked! Marcella Raymond, WGN news.

You don't have to live in the city to take advantage of the Chicago public libraries… they're there for anyone in the world. Click here for more information on the library and other businesses featured in our story.

© 2009 Tribune Interactive

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