I was recently searching through the dress rack at a gem of a consignment shop in Mystic, Conn., called Pennywise, and I felt compelled to ask the store's owner how business has been.
I'm usually fighting back other women when I rifle through such shops, so I wondered why the store wasn't packed given the fact that discount shops tend to fare better during a recession.
But Donna Maden, the owner of a 22-year old family run consignment shop, told me sales are down substantially this year.
"There's just not a lot going on. Not a lot of people. Not a lot of tourists," Maden explained.
It's the same story for many small tourist destinations across the country. They are the places that are likely to suffer most in the current economic climate, according to Maggie Daniels, an associate professor of tourism and events management at George Mason University.
Tourism hubs are not only being hurt by consumers cutting back on vacations, they're also smarting from businesses scaling back on travel for their employees, she noted.
Larger cities that attract tourists, such and New York and Washington, D.C., will be able to hold their own, but smaller towns that survive on tourism will face the biggest challenges because they don't have the size or critical mass to bring big events to their areas, Daniels said.
Daniels told me she was recently in Manassas, Va., speaking to business owners. One retailer told her: "We could be handing out $20 bills and we couldn't get people in."
Mystic has a lot going for it. It's a quaint little seaside town with an aquarium, a major seaport and the famed Mystic Pizza restaurant. It's also very close to two major tribal casinos.
But despite being one of the Northeast's top tourist spots, Mystic faces some challenges this year. Drug maker Pfizer is one of the major employers in the area, but it has eliminated hundreds of jobs. And so relying heavily on tourism isn't helping Mystic in this economy.
"Everyone is being touched by this," said Tricia Cunningham, president of the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce, referring to the drop off in tourism. "We are definitely seeing a decrease in sales and hotel stays."
But while a couple of businesses have closed down as a result of the economy, some are expanding, she added.
A store in downtown Mystic called Stoneware Clothing is opening a second store in early April, Cunningham said.
Tom Taber, owner of Mystic's Taber Inne & Suites, said his business was slightly down in January, but holding its own this month. And 2008 was a good year because it was about even with 2007, which was his best year ever, he said.
"People always need to get away even when things are really bad," he explained.
What's your take? How has tourism been in your town, and how is it impacting your business? Are you planning to cut back your own vacation plans?