Schwab opened a new flagship branch in San Francisco Tuesday -- a bullish sign about the future of the brokerage and the economy.
But founder Charles Schwab admits he is not hiring. He does not think the recovery has taken hold.
"It's not going to improve a whole lot more until we see noticeable changes and reduction in employment and that's going to take a little bit of time; we're going to have to see companies reinvesting and hiring people, we haven't seen that yet," Schwab said.
Shoppers at Union Square shared that cautious view, whether or not they were toting shopping bags.
"We all have to be really cautious and careful, for example, I'm out of work so I shouldn't be spending very much money at all," Marin resident Jeanne Scott said.
Many consumers seem focused on saving money before spending it.
ABC7: "What gives you confidence to spend money at a time like this?"
San Francisco resident Susan Adams: "That I have it in the bank. I have it, that's why. So if I have it, I'm going to spend it, but I wouldn't go into debt over it."
Schwab believes Americans have gotten into too much debt and need to balance the books.
"I think we have to go through this painful period of people saving more and not spending and get ourselves back into a period of equilibrium," he said.
The holiday shopping season will be crucial for retailers and they look at consumer spending as crucial.
However, Golden Gate University consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow thinks consumers have to take care of themselves first.
"It's no individual consumer's obligation to rescue the economy, it's just that collectively if consumers don't spend, our economy won't really recover," Yarrow said.
As holiday spending goes, so goes the recovery.
When it comes to spending, what people say they are going to do and what they actually do can be two different things, putting the retailers in a really tough spot.