Jim Mathison said his customers were still doling out their dollars in measured doses compared to a few years ago, qualifying him as one of the more upbeat vendors at the World Market Center's summer market that closed Friday.
"Business is still pretty strong," said Mathison, the national sales manager for Prepac Manufacturing in Delta, B.C., referring to the company's assemble-it-yourself furniture.
But then came the caveats. People were mostly interested in lower-price items -- $170 or less -- and fewer of them at one time.
"Instead of buying an entire bedroom set, they might just buy a headboard and one end table and pick up the other pieces over a longer period of time than before," Mathison said. "People are still buying stuff for their homes, but staying within a budget."
Neighboring exhibitors in the furniture and furnishings industries, hammered not only by the general economy but close ties to real estate, saw difficulties that started with shaky consumer confidence cascading.
"This market was actually the slowest since I started coming in '08," said Derrick Smith, the showroom manager for Montana Woodworks rustic furniture. "I think there is a lot of uncertainty in the economy. There is money out there, but people are holding onto it out of caution, unlike three years ago."
Factors such as the debt debate in the U.S., potential country defaults in Europe and poor employment numbers have all taken their toll on consumers' willingness to draw down their bank accounts or borrow.
World Market Center officials said attendance was higher than at last year's anemic market, but they have not released figures.
Artisan Home Furniture saw diverging results that marketing manager Guillermo Barreto attributed to the "domino effect" of thriftiness. Retailers that already carry Artisan have bulked up orders, often while trimming the number of brands they carry. But new dealers are not coming in, he said.
"The buyers want to use their dollars safely and want a certain return on their investment," he said.
"From our standpoint, sales were reasonably good, but we don't think it will improve much until after the election," added William Measures, a sale rep for Designs Combined, a gift maker in Oakland, Calif.
Twin Star International, which makes electric fireplaces under the ClassicFlame and Tresanti labels, noticed an unusually high number of last-minute cancellations from retailers who had made buying appointments.
Sales representative Don Svenby guessed that the turmoil in Washington, D.C. kept some buyers away.
Contrary to many others, buyer Debbie Farr from One Swanky Shop in Marble Hills, Texas, said her shopping list was as long as ever.
"We have a higher-end clientele, so we are not so much affected by the economy," she said.
But Smith expects so-so results for a while.
"We're just going to have to ride this out and introduce confidence back to our buyers," he said, referring to furniture retailers. "That's part of our job."
Contact reporter Tim O'Reiley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5290.