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Jenny Heinzen York

Hoping for rain

August 3, 2012

My daily 30-mile commute from the country to the "big city" takes me past hundreds of acres of farmland.

For the past three springs, I have watched as the farmers dutifully sowed their corn crop for the upcoming season. It's a highlight of my long drive to observe the amazingly quick growth of the tall, green stalks for most of the late spring and early summer, when the rainfall is consistent and the worst of the North Carolina heat has yet to set in.

Then, by around this time, each of the three years, I have watched the slow withering of the crop, caused by our heat, compounded by a lack of rain. You first see it with little hints of browning at the bottom of the stalks, then the stalks start to look a little wilted, then it progresses from there. I always find myself sincerely wishing for rain - not for the convenience of not having to water my deck full of potted plants, or because I'm worried about the state of my well - but for the farmers whose very livelihood could depend on the success of that corn crop.

Unfortunately, the rains that came those years came too late, and the corn did not survive.

It occurred to me yesterday that I have witnessed a nearly identical pattern at retail over the last few years. The year starts out on a solid footing, following an upbeat holiday season. The good news continues through the spring, and it really starts to feel like the down cycle has been broken.

But then, summer sets in. Gas prices spike, retail slows down dramatically and the good vibes from the first and second quarters turn markedly more nervous. It scares me that this pattern is repeating itself again here in 2012. Retail sales have dropped for three straight months, and the overall industry mood is back to being tentative, rather than optimistic.

It was a great early season for the corn down here, but the rain seems to have stopped, at least where I am.
Now, it's too soon to declare that this year's retail season is a bust, or the corn crop for that matter, but all I know is that I sure am hoping for some good rain (in the form of upbeat news and some actual precipitation) to help us all make it through what looks like could be yet another cruel summer.