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Cheap Thrills for Hard Times : Jobless Escape Via Daytime Video Rentals

March 26, 1992|MICHAEL SZYMANSKI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As economic hard times persist, it may get more and more difficult to find the latest video releases on the shelves of San Fernando Valley video stores. It's not because stores are cutting back on available rentals, it's because some of the best new releases are getting snatched up earlier in the day by unemployed customers.

Some stores report a noticeable increase of morning visits from steady customers who rent two or three movies at a time. Not surprisingly, many of those customers are out-of-work actors, agents, writers and crew members from the entertainment industry.

"It's a new phenomenon, that's for sure, but there are a lot of industry people out of work in the area and they're coming in here," said Dennis Higgins, a manager of Odyssey Videos in North Hollywood.

"People say they want to bring back the old days of escapism through movies, but they can't afford the $7.50 and parking to go out to a movie, so they spend more time watching videos," Higgins said.

Odyssey Videos reports a solid 25% increase in daytime rentals, with people lining up outside as early as 10 a.m., especially on the Tuesday and Thursday "99-cent special" days.

"I know that a lot of our customers who are coming in lately are entertainment people because they talk to me about it, and I'm a struggling filmmaker myself," said Higgins, who has worked at the video store for more than a year.

Closer to the major local studios, Video West in Studio City attracts people in the entertainment business who live--and once worked--along Ventura Boulevard.

"We get a lot of industry people here as our regular customers," said Video West manager Jim Lunsford, who often has customers who lament about their job search problems. "Some are unemployed, some are retired and some are just addicted to videos," Lunsford said.

Across the Valley in Northridge, Andy Huff, manager of the Tower Video store, said business has generally been going down. "It's been a pretty consistent decrease in overall rentals," Huff said.

Video rentals are down overall in many stores, but the number of films being taken out in the morning hours has increased at video stores throughout the Valley.

At outlets of all sizes, from a mom-and-pop video shop such as Tenerife Videos in Tujunga to a large national chain's store in Canoga Park, regular customers are coming in earlier and leaving with more videos to watch.

"Sometimes it's just hard to tell if they're out of work or not, and we won't ask them of course," said John Loflin, manager of Blockbuster Videos on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks. He said many of the regular renters are people who have worked in the film business.

"We get people from over the hill in Beverly Hills, so I'm not always sure if it's people who are out of work who are coming in and getting the new releases during the day, or if they just don't need to work at all," Loflin said.

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