LOS ANGELES — Now entering a fifth week of bitter stalemate, the Writers Guild of America strike is taking a toll on Los Angeles apparel retailers, who have long depended on entertainment clients for a robust holiday shopping season.
With scripted drama series and sitcoms halting production at an estimated cost to the L.A. economy of $21.3 million per day—not to mention millions of dollars more lost to empty restaurant tables, vacant hotel rooms and other secondary effects of the strike—several men’s wear boutiques reported a marked decrease in foot traffic and a near-freeze on lavish corporate gifting. What was once a cashmere blanket gift for an A-list entertainment client is now more along the lines of a merino wool sweater, sources said.
“It’s an unnerving time because there’s no telling how long the strike is going to last,” said L.A. Sporting Club co-owner Don Zuidema, who sells luxury sportswear and has an entertainment industry clientele that hovers around 30 percent. “We have customers who are agents and have had to lay off a dozen people. People still want to shop, but there’s a wait-and-see attitude that’s going on.”
One L.A. retailer, whose corporate entertainment clients include Creative Artists Agency, William Morris Agency and David Geffen, said many of the firms have put their gift orders on indefinite hold. “We’ve heard from a lot of customers that we simply won’t be seeing them this year. It’s affecting the entire industry,” the retailer said.
As a result of the strike, about 1,000 people have been laid off, not including independent contractors who work in Hollywood as makeup artists, stylists and other professions, according to the L.A. County Economic Development Corp. The entertainment industry is the third-largest employer in L.A. County, contributing about 7 percent to the $442 billion local economy.
“We’ve noticed that it’s getting tougher, especially if you’re in the near-luxury apparel segment,” said Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Economic Development Corp. “People are telling us there’s also nothing new out there, and that the retailers have gotten too conservative in what they’re buying. The customers may be under financial stress, but they’re also bored by what they’re seeing.”
Danny Marsh, owner of the Studio City men’s boutique Sy Devore, said he has canceled 30 percent of his spring inventory in anticipation of a prolonged strike, despite a 6 percent year-over-year sales increase in November. Entertainment industry clients account for about 60 to 65 percent of his overall customer base.
“Right before the strike I had a customer come in who’s a prolific and successful writer for television and film. His financial resources certainly were not affected, but his psychology was,” Marsh said. “He threw on a $2,400 cashmere blazer and loved it. But he said, ‘If we don’t go on strike, I’ll buy it.’”
But other high-end specialty retailers downplayed the strike’s chilling effect on holiday sales, including Scott & Co., which sells luxury Italian labels like Avon Celli and Zanone in a Sunset Boulevard boutique. “The price points we’re dealing with are in the top tier, so we’re not as affected because our customers are generally not writers and their families,” store owner Scott Hill said.