The 733-point drop in the Dow Jones Industrials on Wednesday is a sign the global credit crunch is hitting home -- and hitting retailers and businesses across America. We've just entered the second phase of the bear market in stocks. We're past the panic about bad news in the banking sector. Now, we've moved into the stage where investors accept that stocks are falling because business is going to be bad in the months ahead. Many thought the headlines about falling home prices were a unique situation, the bursting of the housing bubble. Now we have proof that the slowdown has spread through the economy. Retail sales fell 1.2% in September, the third consecutive month of declines. This is the first time since comparable records began in 1992. Not even the fear after Sept. 11, 2001, could stall the consumer this badly. And, remember, the horrible financial headlines didn't really start until October! Now every consumer knows that tough times are coming, and more people are thinking twice about spending. You can be sure that all businesses are making plans to cut back on production and lay off employees. The vicious downward recessionary spiral has begun. If you're asking about bear markets, historian Jim Stack says the median "bear market" duration since 1929 is 15 months. In 1929, the bear growled for 33 months and attacked again for 42 months, starting in 1938, ended only by World War II. More recently, we suffered through a 30-month bear market, starting from the peak in 2000.