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Holiday Displays to Be Less Lavish This Winter : Business: The chill of the recession prompts the City Council to reject a proposal for $1.2 million in decorations. Banners will greet shoppers instead.


BEVERLY HILLS — Beverly Hills, like many recession-weary parents, will be cutting back this holiday season.

The city and the Chamber of Commerce have agreed on a scaled-down decoration proposal that they hope will throw a little magic on holiday sales.

But getting to that point was anything but festive.

"It's been one of the most difficult two weeks of my life," said chamber President Les Bronte. "Everybody loved the decorations but couldn't afford them."

Originally, Raul R. Rodriguez, a Rose Parade float designer, had come up with a stunning $1.2-million proposal that featured sprightly trumpeters and ribbons in seasonal golds, greens and reds. The new decorations called for eight overhead displays draped across Wilshire Boulevard and 450 lamppost displays in the city's retail district.

When the City Council said it couldn't foot the bill for the decorations as in years past, chamber members thought the city might lend the money and recoup the cost through a 4% assessment on city business licenses over a five-year period.

The annual assessment would range anywhere from $6 to $12 for small businesses to as much as $200 a year for a large business, Bronte said.

But the recession has not left Beverly Hills untouched. "We couldn't recommend an assessment district because it is a bad time for merchants to have any kind of assessment," Bronte said.

Yet, everyone seemed to want to celebrate. The chamber took a poll of its 1,100 members over the two weeks, and 98% said they want some kind of decorations, Bronte said.

So the chamber has come up with a proposal to unfurl 450 banners throughout the retail district, he said.

"We feel very good about this," Bronte said. "The city and the chamber have showed a lot of fiscal responsibility."

The chamber now has six weeks to come up with a design in order to have the banners up in time for the holidays.

The cost of the banners is not known yet, but they will be paid for out of the $85,000 the city allocates each year to the Beverly Hills Visitors and Convention Bureau for maintaining holiday decorations. The money is used to light the decorations, as well as hang and store them.

The West Los Angeles company making the banners will donate the hardware for hanging them, and it will also provide personnel to put them up and take them down, Bronte said.

The new decorations will replace the city's 6-year-old decorations, which were damaged by strong winds last year. The city paid $673,542 in 1986 to purchase the illuminated greeting cards featuring sleigh rides, snowflakes and skaters.

The holiday season is particularly important because some boutiques, such as those along Rodeo Drive, bring in as much as 60% of their sales during the months of November and December, said Bill Boyd, the Chamber's executive vice president.

Traditionally, the winter holiday season brings in 25% to 30% of the more than $1 billion in gross retail sales annually in Beverly Hills.

Other cities might not think twice about giving decorations the budget ax, but Beverly Hills council members do not see them as a luxury.

"This is not a frivolous thing," said City Councilwoman Vicki Reynolds at a recent council meeting. "It does make a statement about how the community feels about the economy."

"This is a signature statement for the city," Mayor Robert Tanenbaum said.

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