Both of my parents lived through the Great Depression, but experienced its effects to varying degrees. My father, a New Yorker, went off to college in the heat of the financial storm and was far too busy meeting girls and attending class (in that order, I’m told) to worry about a worldwide downturn.
My mother, however, felt every painful moment of the meltdown. Just 8 years old in 1933, she watched helplessly as her father lost the family farm. She and her three older brothers went to work in the Louisiana crop fields, picking cotton for pay and eating biscuits and gravy twice a day.
My family’s story isn’t unique. Huge numbers of us boomers were born to Great Depression alumnae, and we were raised on our parents’ post-Depression teachings: Spend less than you make, pay cash for your purchases, clean your plate because you don’t know when the next meal may come.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I was listening. Except for the clean-your-plate rule, my parents’ economic lessons went in one ear and out the other. I got my first credit card on the day I graduated from college and broke it in with zeal. I bought my first “grown-up” stereo system from Curtis Mathes—and financed it at 36% interest. I charged my first child on MasterCard.
That was then. In mid-2008, when the “r” word had made the front pages of the newspaper four days straight, I found myself revisiting Mom and Dad’s teachings and questioning if what my parents and grandparents learned in 1933 is relevant to and practicable in 2009.
Obviously, the answer has to be yes, but the application won’t be easy. Just look at what is happening in the shopping center development world. General Growth is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy (at presstime, it was still questionable whether or not the country’s second-largest mall owner would be able to repay staggering amounts of debt coming due this year, and Fitch Ratings predicted default was imminent). Other developers are scrambling to avoid GGP’s probable fate and searching for opportunities to divest properties. But, Ram Realty CEO Dennis Gershenson spoke for all developers when he said in his company’s third-quarter conference call th