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If you're rich, there are great deals in lux goods

CHICAGO - If you need to rent a jet by the hour, or pick up a new Maserati, or stock up on high-end cigars (what else would you light with your hundred dollar bills?) -- kindly tell your driver to steer the limo toward suburban Rosemont.

Economy be damned, the 2009 Luxury Living Expo is on this weekend, and the deals you'll find along Luxury Lane at the suburb's convention center are nothing short of -- amazing?

A diamond-encrusted platinum watch that would make Kanye West blush is marked down from $60,000 to $22,000. There's a gently-used, cherry red Ferrari for a mere $229,000.

And the eco-friendly, Indian silk woven replica zebra-skin area rugs? They're only $5,800, and no zebras have to die.

"Last year this really seemed like a neat idea," said Steve Braverman of TransWorld Exhibits Inc., the show's organizer.

That was last year, before the economy stalled, the government began bailing out corporations and Ed McMahon started encouraging people to sell their gold rings.

"At the beginning of this year, I was pretty stressed," Braverman said. "But we lowered the ticket prices, lowered the cost for exhibitors, and then things seemed to bottom out a little."

Now some 15,000 people are expected to attend the expo, which runs today through Sunday, and exhibitors say they've begun to see an increase in consumer spending.

"Business is actually OK," said Keith Wermeyer, sales manager of Continental AutoSports, a Ferrari and Maserati dealer in nearby suburban Hinsdale. "It's actually been up since January."

The reality, exhibitors say, is that the economy has led to some good deals on high-end items. The prices may still seem absurd for most, but for the wealthy there are opportunities to buy luxury goods at unheard of prices.

Leon Simons, a New Jersey-based jewelry dealer, has Rolex and Versace watches going for the price of a Honda Civic, but they used to cost as much as a BMW.

"There are better prices across the board," Simons said, "things you would never see discounted. Now that it seems like the big slaughter is over, I think consumers are loosening up."

John McCormick of Marquis Jet can get customers a private jet for 25 hours for as low as $132,000. And his Midwestern business is right on budget.

"The people with money still have money," he said. "For the CEO's we're dealing with, they work 80, maybe 90 hours a week and when they go on vacation the last thing they want to do is deal with O'Hare."

Of course the last thing most people want to deal with is O'HareAirport, but that's what separates the haves from the have-nots, even when it seems everyone has less. The Luxury Living Expo shows the economy is all relative. Some see great deals on clothes at Sears, others see great deals on hot tubs you could swim laps in.

Priscilla Cook of Wadsworth came to the expo Friday, just to ogle the goods: "It's kind of fun talking to the people, looking at the products, looking at the things we'd love to have."

That bargain Ferrari on Luxury Lane?

Cook shrugged.

"It's OK to dream."

Thus far, that doesn't cost a thing.

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