By Kevin Smith, San Gabriel Valley Tribune
Posted: 03/19/14, 7:49 PM PDT | Updated: 1 hr ago

The recession may be over, but it has left a lot of uncertainty in its wake.

Companies remain reluctant to hire because they can’t gauge where the economy is heading. And consumers who have lost their jobs or had their hours scaled back are keeping a tight rein on spending, according to Kimberly Ritter-Martinez, an economist with the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.

“I think most consumers are still being cautious,” she said. “Most of the growth we’re seeing in consumer spending is being driven by the top 5 percent of the income distribution. The rest of us haven’t seen a lot of wage growth. There are still relatively high levels of unemployment and many are working part time and not able to find a job in their profession.”

The upshot?

Businesses are working harder than ever to move their merchandise, whether it’s cars, clothing or jewelry. Just ask Claude Morady, owner of Claude Morady Estate Jewelry in Beverly Hills.

Morady sells a variety of used jewelry, including vintage pieces from the ’60s and antique diamond rings. Some of his bracelets, brooches and other rare pieces are 100 to 150 years old.

“It’s actually easier to sell a piece that’s worth $50,000 to $100,000 than a piece that sells for $2,000,” he said. “It used to be that a guy would come in and buy an engagement ring for $2,000, and then two years later he’d buy another $2,000 piece of jewelry for an anniversary. But there just doesn’t seen to be any disposable income anymore.”

Lots of people have money, Morady said, but nearly all of that green is being used to pay the mortgage and for private school tuition, car payments and a myriad of other bills.

“People are still buying, but their buying patterns are different,” he said. “They still want to come in and see the merchandise … but there has been a big push to buy on the Internet.”

Sandra Cemerska, who runs a retail kiosk at Westfield West Covina, still shops. But she never pays full price.

“I only shop when there is a coupon or if I can use my mall discount,” the 29-year-old West Covina resident said. “My husband likes to go to expensive stores that sell Calvin Klein and Hugo Boss clothing, but he uses reward cards.”

Joe Engkraf, fleet manager for Mountain View Chevrolet in Upland, said his dealership’s Corvettes — priced from around $50,000 to $70,000 — are moving as fast as he can get them in. But the more moderately priced cars? Not so much.

“The majority of our sales are still economical cars in the $20,000 to $30,000 range,” he said. “Sales were up the last quarter, but they’ve been down since the first of the year.”

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