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We Can Put a Little Down and Buy What We Like Again

We Can Put a Little Down and Buy What We Like Again

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In the days before the economy was roaring and just about every shopper bought things with plastic credit cards, many people didn't have quite enough money on hand to purchase clothes, appliances – even school supplies.

So rather than lose a customer, stores offered a free service called layaway, in which the consumer brought the desired item not to a check-out cashier, but to the layaway desk. He or she paid a portion of the purchase price as a deposit, and the store agreed to hold it for a few weeks while the customer paid off the balance – usually with no interest charged.

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Layaway was particularly popular during the bleak Great Depression of the 1930s. Big department stores set whole layaway rooms aside in which to hold everything from toys to refrigerators.But the practice all but disappeared once the credit card craze swept the country.

But these days, credit is tighter. Some people have maxed out their cards, had their credit cards cancelled, or are using plastic more prudently and less often. Many went to the big national retail chains and asked if layaway plans were available.

Usually the answer was No, but the requests kept coming. So store after store set up layaway counters once again, at least for the coming holiday season. Sears, for instance, had done away with layaway 10 years ago but is offering the service again this year.

Now that layaway is back, cost-conscious shoppers are asking the next logical question: Will Christmas club accounts – in which consumers sock away money for holiday spending all year long – or green stamps, once given with every purchase and redeemable for consumer goods or prizes, be the next customer-friendly service to make a comeback?

Read more of Ted's personal reflections and stories from the road on his blog, Ted Landphair's America.