Posted: March 2, 2009, 3:15 pm
By Michael Wilson
Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times An exterminator displays a mouse caught in a Manhattan restaurant in 2007.
Brace yourselves for more fun news: recessions, it turns out, while bad for humans, may be good for cockroaches and mice.
Veterans in the pest control industry said that their customers, both residential and commercial, appear to be sacrificing on regular exterminations as a cost-cutting measure. While restaurants are bound by the threats of steep fines, apartment landlords and office buildings are cutting back services, the exterminators said.
Robert Agatowski, with Control Exterminating Company on East 33rd Street in Manhattan, recalled a recent call from a general manager of a business.
"He said, ‘It's very simple. I don't know if we can make the rent or the payroll,'" Mr. Agatowski recalled. "‘So in other words, you're out. We'll step on the bugs and kick the mice.' The exterminating almost becomes like a luxury item."
He and other exterminators interviewed this week were careful not to name names.
"People are being penny wise and pound foolish," said Gil Bloom, with Standard Pest Management in Long Island City, Queens. "Monitoring pest control is very much pest prevention. It's not just killing what's there today. One mouse, a month later, could easily be a dozen mice."
Exterminators said they are too busy to be hurt by any slowdown. "Business is a little lackluster, but they're able to keep above water because of the bedbug situation," said Leonard Douglen, executive director of the New Jersey Pest Management Association. "I would be concerned about it if people start cutting down on that service, because it's essential. Especially in New York City."
Restaurants do not have much leeway when it comes to pest control. If an inspection turns up pests or evidence of pets, like rodent droppings, then stiff fines follow.
"They end up spending as much as they would have spent if they'd maintained the whole time," said Jeff Eisenberg, president of Pest Away Exterminating in Manhattan. "You want to change your oil every month, or you want to spend the $700 for a whole new something or other?"
So far, so good: The city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reported a slight decrease in pest-related violations from inspections in the last quarter of 2008, compared with the same period in 2007.
Exterminators said it was too soon to blame a slowdown in service calls solely on the recession, as the cold winter months are typically when people cut back. "I've been doing this 17 years, so I know the cycles," Mr. Eisenberg said. "I don't panic."