Recession items: Chocolate, shoes, Spam

People are not drinking as much beer or wine at bars and restaurants, but they haven't stopped drinking. The Wine Institute says that despite the recession, U.S. sales of California wines totaled about 467 million gallons last year — 2% more than the year before. But people are looking more closely at cheaper selections: The overall retail value of California wine sales fell slightly from 2007, the institute said.

Those on the go are not shying away from footing the bill for sturdy running shoes. Sales increased 2% in 2008, said Tom Doyle at the National Sporting Goods Association in Mount Prospect, Ill.

"Runners aren't going to hurt themselves to save a few bucks," he said. Likewise, sales of bicycle helmets are up as parents continue to spend money to protect youngsters, he said.

The financial meltdown produced more interest in home safes. Coin dealers are awash in customers as investors big and small see the safety of gold.

Sunshine Minting Inc. in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, which supplies gold blanks to the U.S. Mint, doubled its work force in 2008.

"It just came on like gangbusters," said president Tom Power, who struggled to hire, train and get new equipment to handle demand that doubled, then tripled. "You can't just flip a switch and jump up production overnight."

Guns are selling well, too. Total firearms sales rose 27.5% at Smith & Wesson for the three months ending Jan. 31. It's not a sudden interest in hunting behind the increase; hunting firearm sales at the company declined during the quarter by 46%.

Gun sales are being driven by concern that the Obama administration will tighten gun laws. But people also are feeling a level of fear and heightened interest in self-reliance as they weather the recession.

"They are looking down the road going 'What could happen here?"' Underhill said. "I think a lot of Americans are truly scared. One of the things that tickles is our pioneer ethos, which is, 'I feel better with a year's supply of toilet paper' and 'Maybe I should start canning and pickling."'

Many people already are.

The number of home vegetable gardens is predicted to jump more than 40% this year, compared with two years ago, according to the National Gardening Association. Sales of vegetable seeds such as green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and lettuce climbed 30% as of March at W. Atlee Burpee, a large seed company in Warminster, Pa. It organized a basic training course called "root camp" for hundreds of would-be gardeners this month outside Philadelphia.

Still, when the economy grinds to a halt, people clench their teeth. That could mean spending money at the dentist.

There's no statistical evidence, but dentists such as Dr. Matthew Messina in Cleveland, Ohio., are seeing more people with tooth-grinding injuries.

"The body responds the same way to a real threat, 'There's a burglar in the house,' as it does to a perceived stress like 'I'm worried I'm going to lose the house,"' Messina said.

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