Roland Park merchant posts annual predictions

January 01, 1994|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Staff Writer

Some people rely on psychics for a hint of the future. In Roland Park, the place to go is Schneider Paint & Hardware.

For more than 25 years, Paul Schneider has posted his predictions for the coming year in this old-fashioned hardware store, which takes up the first floor of a brown shingle house on Wyndhurst Avenue.

The list, a hand-lettered sign on white tagboard, hangs over the counter throughout the year. Customers are clamoring for the 1994 list, but it won't be posted until next week. Mr. Schneider, however, is willing to release a few tidbits now.

"The Dow Jones will hit 4,000," he said. (The close yesterday was 3775.88.)

Later he added, a bit more mysteriously: "It also is going to be the year of the liberal."

Hmmm -- perhaps not a propitious time for Rush Limbaugh to debut on WBAL radio. Then again, Mr. Schneider has been wrong before. Space ships with aliens, a periodic prediction, have yet to land.

"If they do, they never tell," he said.

His hits may be more notable than his misses. The Berlin Wall coming down in 1989? Had it. Heiress Patty Hearst's capture and eventual acquittal? Had that, too. And he was off on Greta Garbo's death by only one month.

Yet he claims no psychic powers and, although his family once gave him a crystal ball, he never peers into it. It's all common sense -- and volume, volume, volume.

"Listen, I read a lot, and you just get a feel for it," he said. "Of course, if you make enough of them, you're bound to hit. The true criteria would be to do just four."

He began with six, a sales gimmick to attract the neighborhood's bankers, stock brokers and real estate agents during the slow months of January and February.

Mr. Schneider -- who's really Mr. Pratt, but began using his father-in-law's name after taking over the store in 1965 -- posted his picks for the Dow Jones, the prime rate, the cost of gold, the price of a gallon of gas, the unemployment rate and the inflation rate.

"It wasn't enough; people would come in and say, 'That's all right, how about some other things?' " Mr. Schneider recalled. "Then I started going into political predictions. Then I started with movie star predictions."

He stays away from "negative" things, so his 1994 list will not speculate on the fate of Michael Jackson. Nor is he interested in Donald Trump and Marla Maples, a staple in the tabloids' predictions for 1994. (He does think, however, that their marriage can last the year.)

His 1993 list had 13 predictions, and it was "a pretty good year," in Mr. Schneider's estimation, with more hits than misses.

Under his system, he only has to be right once in 365 days. So if the Dow hits 3,400 and keeps going, as it did this year, his 3,400 prediction is considered a good one.

Using that criterion, he did well with his basic six this year, with the sole exception of gasoline. He thought it would be at $2 per gallon at some point.

In fact, Mr. Schneider thought the country was headed toward an energy crisis and hinted at "earth changes" in 1993 -- "California going into the ocean, things like that." He faults himself for not seeing the summer flooding in the Midwest.

Politically, he was on surer ground. The 1993 list includes "No tax cut for the middle class" and some cagey insights about the public's increasing frustrations with Congress.

His son, Jeff, who owns the store and also uses the name Schneider, said some people put almost too much faith in his father's predictions.

"One lady comes in and says, 'I don't invest in the stock market until I read the predictions,' " the younger Mr. Schneider said.

Other customers delight in arguing with the list, saying "Oh no, you're way off!"

Mr. Schneider makes no guarantees and doesn't seem to take it too seriously.

Still, he's having another feeling. Something about the monarchy. It seems to be fading -- not in 1994, but maybe by 1995. Stay tuned.

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