Byline: Marcy Medina / with contributions from Kristin Young
LOS ANGELES — In a city where velvet ropes and guest lists are de riguer, it’s hard to imagine breezing into the spot-of-the-moment without at least one cell phone call or a hassle at the door. But one veteran studio exec remembers doing just that during the Writers Guild of America strike of 1988, when Hollywood became a virtual ghost town during the five-month walkout.
“I was a twentysomething assistant, and a friend and I decided to go to Le Dome and pretend to be big shots. Back then, it was the kind of place where a nobody wouldn’t even be able to get in the door, and we sat right down,” he recalled.
If the writers union decides to strike again Tuesday, the city could be hit with another case of consumers vanishing into thin air.
Local economists peg the strike’s potential impact at roughly $250 million per week in indirect costs to Southern California businesses. Economists for Mayor Richard Riordan say 16,000 of a total 600,000 jobs in the restaurant, nightclub and retail sector could be lost permanently as a result of the strike.
The timing couldn’t be worse. The city has been undergoing a renaissance in boutiques, hot night spots and eateries in the last A strike could mean closures while the paint’s still wet on the newest destinations.
Already vets are feeling the new conservatism.
Tracey Ross, whose namesake West Hollywood designer boutique is a favorite among industry heavies recalled Los Angeles was “a morgue” during the 1988 strike. Not taking any chances this year, she’s paring back her orders from European designers and opting for domestic lines.
“I’m cutting orders right now. I’m scared,” she said.
Ross doubts that she’ll lose her big spenders. “Thank God for Tori [Spelling],” she quipped. But less cash-heavy celebs could slow their spending sprees.
“I always look at cute clothes and go, ‘I shouldn’t get this,”‘ said actress Rose McGowan.
At Lisa Kline on Robertson Boulevard, Kline said she’s not slowing her buying, but rather reallocating dollars toward casual clothes.
“All girls want are jeans and T-shirts. Maybe they know they won’t be working,” she said.
Shauna Stein, an owner of On Beverly Boulevard in West Hollywood, is more worried about how the strike could affect consumer confidence in general rather than the financial impact on her store — which she anticipates will be “nominal.”
“I don’t feel the doom and gloom,” she said. “The strike is just another wrinkle in everyday retail woes.”
Perhaps, but its impact is already being felt in other segments — particularly those where a visit would otherwise warrant a new dress or pair of earrings.
At The Grill in Beverly Hills, considered the birthplace of the power lunch, with approximately 70 percent of its patrons working in the entertainment industry, business has slowed by about 20 percent in the last month in anticipation of the strike, believes manager Michael Goddard. He said that on average days, the 38-table restaurant serves about 200 lunches with an average bill of about $40 per person.
“They’re saving their nuts for the winter, so to speak, but they’ll be back,” he said. Goddard estimated that if a walkout occurs, business will drop by another 15 percent. Still, he refuses to cut his prices or his staff, instead planning to rotate schedules.
On the other end of the spectrum, casual industry hangouts like King’s Road in West Hollywood, where lunch averages $11 per person, have also experienced dips in business. Manager Lori Taurman noted that the typically heavy breakfast crowd has decreased by about 20 percent in the 35-table restaurant over the last two months. She said she plans to run specials to keep regular customers during a strike.
“Even though our sandwiches are only $7.50, any meal adds up,” she said.
But at Moomba, the month-old West Hollywood clone of the New York original, owner Jeff Gossett is scrambling to keep up with dinner reservations and lines at the door: “At this point, we’re just trying to deal with all people who want to come in and not the people who might not come in on May 1.”