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Casualty of War : At the outbreak of the gulf crisis, movie rentals were drastically down. As TV coverage declines, business is expected to pick up.

January 24, 1991|LEO SMITH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mike Janover, president of the Ojai Film Society, said he has found it difficult to watch a movie since the war in the Persian Gulf began eight days ago.

"It's the most extraordinary thing, to see it unfold on TV. You see people putting on gas masks, you see bombs. I just can't tear myself away," he said. "When have you seen anything like this except in the movies? It's like you're in the movie."

Many people in Ventura County must have agreed but only temporarily. Local video store operators reported a significant decline in business during the first few days of the war.

Cheri West, owner of Royal Video I and Royal Video II in Simi Valley, said her business dropped about 50% the first day of the war. But by the fourth day, it had returned to normal.

"Comedies are going like crazy," she said. "Customers are walking in telling me they're getting bored watching news. They're telling me it's repetitive and depressing."

Now that network coverage has decreased, West has noticed that her business is affected by news updates that preempt normal prime-time programming.

"We're usually a busy, busy store, but come around 8 or 9 at night, there aren't many customers. Now all of a sudden we're getting a rush between 8 and 8:30," she said. "I hear from the customers that they were in the middle of watching something, the news broke in, and that was the end of it."

Blockbuster video stores in Port Hueneme and Thousand Oaks also had a precipitous drop in business at the start of the war. "I thought people would be coming in," said Scott Brown, assistant manager of the Port Hueneme store. "But everybody wanted to stay glued to their TV."

While video outlets were doing slow business initially, turnout at movie theaters was mixed. "I don't think our business will flourish until this thing is over with," said Hal Graves, manager of the Towne Theatre in Fillmore.

On the other hand, signs of war were not at all obvious at the Ojai Playhouse, even from the very outset, said co-owner Walid Alawar.

"Our theater has been doing good," he said. "I've seen an increase. I think people sometimes need a break. There's just so much war news they can listen to."

That doesn't surprise Sharon Potter, a local marriage, family and child counselor. She said people need an escape from the somberness of the war.

"They've got to get away sometimes. They get so caught up," she said. "It's better to pop in a video or go to a movie where there are people and hope, rather than watching this battery of news. People definitely go to the movies to escape life."

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