SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Coming up, the brilliant lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein. But first, the economic slowdown is forcing some businesses to find creative ways to keep their operations afloat. One way: bartering. That ancient form of doing business has seen a 25 percent jump in recent months. From member station WFCR, Tina Antolini reports.
TINA ANTOLINI: Josh Gardner owns a company called The Jar Store that distributes glassware and candle-making materials from this sprawling warehouse in New Britain, Connecticut. There are rows upon rows of jars of every kind, and shelves of bottles containing the stuff that puts the scent in scented candles, from Autumn Pear to Cucumber Melon.
Mr. JOSH GARDNER (Proprietor, The Jar Store): So a lot of the fragrances that you have around your house start here. Here's one that's very popular. This you smell throughout the holidays regardless of what you buy, Christmas Splendor.
ANTOLINI: Even if the scent of Christmas Splendor is ubiquitous this time of year, Gardner's seen a drop-off in sales ever since the economy took a turn for the worse. He says a lot of his clients - smalltime candle-makers and specialty food providers who use his glass jars - have been going out of business because of the dive in consumer spending. That's when he heard about bartering.
Mr. GARDNER: When I first heard it, I laughed. I couldn't understand that we had gone back to some archaic, I mean, literally like pre-Babylonian exchange mechanism. I picture, like, two shepherds trading goats for cows in, like, northern Nepal.
ANTOLINI: Despite the fact that Gardner's business involves no livestock, he was convinced to give bartering a try by a friend named Debbie Lombardi.
(Soundbite of phone ringing)
Ms. DEBBIE LOMBARDI (Proprietor, Barter Business Unlimited): Barter Business, can I help you?
ANTOLINI: Lombardi is the owner of Barter Business Unlimited, a barter exchange just down the road from Gardner's warehouse in Bristol, Connecticut. She's sort of a business matchmaker, finding one client service to meet another's needs. Here's how it works. A company opens something like a bank account where it can build up bartering credits.
Ms. LOMBARDI: I take The Jar Store. He sells jars to, let's say, a new outlet, maybe a florist that he never had before. He sells $5,000 worth of jars. He did not have to take a flower. Rather, Josh can turn that into employee benefit programs, payroll service, vehicle maintenance, probably signage and Web site work.
ANTOLINI: And those are things he can find through the barter exchange, covering some of his expenses without having to use any cash, which he's found attractive in the middle of a national credit crunch. Others have too. The International Reciprocal Trade Association, which tracks the barter industry, says barter transactions are up as much as 25 percent. While barter is taxed the same way as cash, Lombardi says this recession is making converts out of people who were skeptical about bartering to sustain their business.
Ms. LOMBARDI: Time gets tight, and your warehouse starts to fill up, or your guys aren't working, and they're on the payroll - you know, you start looking for other alternatives. So our phones have been ringing off the hook.
ANTOLINI: Lombardi makes a commission on everything bought through Barter Business Unlimited. She's seeing everything from restaurants turning to barter to fill increasingly empty tables to a surge in real estate listings.
Ms. LOMBARDI: And I've never seen this, and I've been doing this business 22 years. I have never seen someone come to me and say, I'll give you a million dollar property, and I'll take $500,000 down on barter. Never happened.
ANTOLINI: And there's another trend Lombardi is seeing for the first time - people like dentists and other service providers sending their delinquent customers to her to see if there's something they can barter away in lieu of paying their bill in cash. When it's a choice between going into collection or making a trade, barter looks like a pretty appealing way to do business. For NPR News, I'm Tina Antolini.
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