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Moving to a Sober Beat : At Teen Club, 'There's Nothing to Do but Dance, Drink Coke and Eat Candy'

February 16, 1989|DAVID HALDANE | Times Staff Writer

The line starts forming at 8:15 p.m. There are pale short-haired boys wearing baggy pants with white socks, and bright-eyed girls in black leather miniskirts.

As they reach the front of the line, each submits to a search. Holding their arms straight up, the boys are patted down by a security man wearing a two-way communications headset, while the girls open their purses for examination.

Immediately inside the door, an electronic message board spits out red letters informing the entrants of house rules. "No drugs, no alcohol, no weapons, no bangers," the machine says, using a slang word referring to gang members. Then, evoking the name of a device traditionally associated with doctors but in recent years favored by youthful drug dealers, the machine says, "Oh yeah, I almost forgot. No beepers. What are you, a brain surgeon?"

It is Saturday night at Jets, Long Beach's only teen-age nightclub and one of a handful in Southern California. The club's purpose, according to its owners, is twofold: to give youths a place to party hard on Friday and Saturday nights in a drug- and alcohol-free environment, and to provide a good living for its two owners.

So far, they say, it is succeeding wildly on the first count and just barely on the second.

"I'd lost three of my friends to drugs before I was 16," said co-owner Craig (Jet) Sutter, 25, for whom the club is named. "What we're doing here is showing kids that they can have fun without (drugs and alcohol)."

Adds his partner, Karl Kamb, also 25: "There's nothing to do here but dance, drink Coke and eat candy. It's as innocent as a Little League snack bar."

In fact, the club is the product of a friendship between the two men that dates back to when they were not much older than Little Leaguers. Born and raised in Malibu, they were fast friends through most of their childhood and adolescent years. Later they pursued separate careers--Kamb into the car business and Sutter into a career in nightclubs.

For six years Sutter said he worked at a club for young adults in Santa Monica, first as a disc jockey and finally as manager. Surrounded by drugs and alcohol, he developed a drinking problem himself. And although he was able to eventually get the help he needed to curb it, Sutter said, the experience motivated him to want to help others.

So two years ago when the club in Santa Monica closed, throwing Sutter out of work, he sought out his old friend Kamb and asked him whether he would like to go into the teen-age nightclub business.

"We see a lot of kids who are literally destroying their lives," Sutter said. "They have absolutely no future."

By providing an environment that is both "hip" and safe, he figured, he could not only solve his own unemployment problem, but do his bit to help curb teen-age drug and alcohol abuse.

Kamb liked the idea enough to sink $250,000 into it from his savings, a loan from his mother and the sale of his house, car and motorcycle. It was with that seed money that the pair leased and renovated the 17,200-square-foot building in downtown Long Beach that is now Jets.

After opening a year ago, Kamb said, the new club, which operates only on Fridays and Saturdays, was attracting about 100 customers a night. Today, he said, it averages 500 teen-agers on each of the two nights, still less than half capacity. The owners attribute the significant increase to word-of-mouth and an ambitious publicity campaign in which Jets deejays preside over lunchtime dances at various area high schools.

School Officials Applaud

Long Beach Unified School District officials say they applaud the idea of a non-alcoholic nightclub for teen-agers. "I think it's great," said Edward M. Eveland, assistant superintendent for secondary education.

An attempt last year to sponsor a series of Friday night drug- and alcohol-free dances at Wilson High School had to be temporarily curtailed, he said, after the appearance of "riffraff from all over the city . . . who were not looking for fun but trouble."

At one point, he said, the drinking and carousing outside the dance caused police to be summoned to avoid a violent confrontation. Since then, according to Wilson High officials, the dances have been resumed with tighter security that has eliminated the problems.

"I'm behind any kind of activity that is closely supervised and provides a place where kids can go for entertainment other than wandering the streets or attending (unsupervised) parties," Eveland said, referring to Jets, which is supervised by a staff of young adults. "I think we need more of them."

To accommodate its 15- to 21-year-old patrons, the nightclub features two separate dance floors, each with its own sound system and deejay.

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