Credit Crunch Puts Family On A Downward Slide

Kitchen Table Series

David Leschinsky at Eureka, the puzzle and game store he founded in Brookline, Mass.

hide captionDavid Leschinsky is short on the cash he needs to make payroll and to buy inventory for the holiday season. And the banks he's been going to for years have slammed the brakes on lending.

Tovia Smith/NPR

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The kitchen table in David And Deborah Leschinsky's house is not a great place to have a conversation these days; the fridge, that has been broken for months, now chortles and whines so loud, sometimes it's hard to hear each other talking. Even worse, the milk and other foods routinely go bad; Deborah says the kids have learned to smell before they sip.

Years ago, the Lechinskys would have replaced the fridge immediately. That was when they were both making good salaries in high tech. They bought a four bedroom house in a great neighborhood of Brookline, Mass., vacationed in Hawaii, and gave to several charities.

Then, shortly after Deborah quit work to stay home with their three small children, David lost his job in the high tech implosion. He went into business. And things were tighter, but still okay— until now.

"I would say that we were upper middle class," says David. "Then we sank to middle class. And now, we're sinking below that fast."

Leschinsky says he's being choked by the financial meltdown, both at home, and at his store, Eureka, that sells the kinds of puzzles and games that are his passion.

When he first opened four years ago, the business was doing great and sales climbed steadily. But this year, customers started spending less. Those who had always bought $20 birthday gifts, for example, would spend $12 instead. And many regulars stopped shopping altogether.

Then came the meltdown on Wall Street. "The day the market plummeted," Leschinsky recalls. "We had no business until 2 in the afternoon."

"That whole week was terrible," adds Deborah.

And so was the month. Sales in September were down more than 20 percent—even from the usually slow August. Now Leschinsky is short on the cash he needs to make payroll, and to buy inventory for the holiday season. But suddenly, the banks he's been going to for years have slammed the brakes on lending.

"They've said their credit policies are tightening," says Leschinsky, "and it's clear we're not going to get a loan."

"It's a vicious cycle," says Deborah. "if you don't have the money, you can't expand. If you can't expand, you're not going to get more money. You know, it's really crippling."

Leschinsky says he hasn't been able to draw a livable salary for a year. To make matters worse, Deborah, who had returned to work several years ago, was forced to quit again because of a family medical issue.

And now things are, quite literally, falling apart at home. The gas stove is down to one burner; the microwave doesn't turn; but there is no money for repairs. They have even put off dental work that needs to be done, and treatment for termites. They have long since stopped going to movies and eating out. Now, they've stopped having dinner guests, even on holidays.

And still, the credit crunch is killing them.

When their car died, the Leschinskys applied for a loan to replace it. But they were turned down. Now they borrow a neighbor's car when they can.

And meantime, the interest rates keep increasing on the credit cards they used to start their business and pay their living expenses.

"I don't know what we're going to do. I mean, its embarrassing but we're just getting farther and farther into the hole. And we worry!"

The stress has taken its toll. Deborah says she's lost a ton of weight this year– but she quips, "Its not all been horrible. Yknow, at least I look nice now."

It's the kind of humor Deborah says, that's getting them through this ordeal. Both she and her husband are more upbeat than you'd expect from folks as pragmatic and logic-minded as they are.

"We just laugh at it all the time," says Deborah.

"We often take bets on which appliance will break next," adds David.

The Leschinskys are also betting big on their puzzle store, and they are optimistic they'll pull through.

"When the choice becomes, do I pay health care expenses, or do I buy inventory," David says. "There is no easy answer."

But, the game-store owner says, he looks at it like a puzzle.

"It's like a sequencing thing, he says. " It's like saying 'Okay, this time I'm going to pay a bill today that was due a week ago, and then I hope the money will come in tomorrow to pay a bill that was due today."

In the meantime, Leschinsky is also trying another strategy; he's starting to expand his business into running events like corporate game nights and kids' parties. It's a great move, since selling his time and services – is something he can do, even without a bank loan.

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