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A Restaurant That's Bartering Through the Recession Fireside Restaurant in Chicago Barters Through the Recession

Fireside Restaurant is using an age-old form of goods exchange to weather a tough economy.

A Chicago restaurant is using an age-old method of payment to power through a faltering economy. Richard Wohn, the owner of Fireside Restaurant and Lounge on the northwest side of the city, has kept up a steady stream of customers who pay through bartering. Wohn told WBEZ he estimates about five to 10 percent of his business is the result of bartering, an average of about five tables a night.

But don't go to the restaurant planning to make an on-the-spot deal; Fireside doesn't directly barter with customers. The restaurant uses bartering websites like ITEX and International Monetary System, which act sort of like brokering services for thousands of businesses. Wohn has actually been bartering more informally for decades; the online system has simply made it easier to connect with businesses who offer services he needs.

"There are personal trainers, electricians, dentists, you name it," says Joey Metler, the general manger of Fireside. "We just re-did our floors through the system. The guys gave us an estimate [through the site] and we gave them a credit equivalent to meals at the restaurant."

Wohn has bought everything from tables to ice cream coolers to mixers to custom chocolates for the staff on Valentine's Day through the online bartering system. He buys "excess inventory"—discounted items (usually up to 30 percent off) that otherwise wouldn't sell at all. And the system isn't limited to physical objects, either. Instead of getting a bonus, Metler went on a $2,000 vacation to Cancun using the barter system and ended up paying just $200.

"[Wohn] likes the bargain-hunting," says Metler. "And it ends up being cheaper for us in the long run."

photo courtesy of Fireside

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