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SUPER BOWL XXVII : Screen Play : Big Game Requires a Big Television, Which Made This the Biggest Weekend of the Year at the King's Store

February 01, 1993|THOMAS S. MULLIGAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Maybe you wouldn't think of a $3,000 television set with a screen the size of a bus windshield as an impulse purchase.

But, hey, it's the Super Bowl. You get caught up in it.

"We've got a perfectly good 27-inch vertical TV," said Erf Foor of Garden Grove, a guy with a silver crew cut who is a Penn State football maniac. "But for some reason it decided it didn't want to turn off. When I had to pull the plug out to turn it off, that was all the excuse I needed."

All the excuse to jump in the car with his wife, Bonnie, and run out to buy a 50-inch big screen.

The same impulse that hit Erf Foor had struck most of the crowd in La Habra on Saturday at Paul's TV. Against the magnitude of the year's most-hyped sports event, their trusty living room consoles had suddenly shrunk in scale. Trying to watch Super Bowl XXVII on an ordinary set with its tinny little speakers, they realized, was a little silly, like hunting bear with a salad fork.

Super Bowl Eve is always the biggest day of the year at Paul's. The store set its one-day sales record two years ago with 137 big screens out the door. It at least matched that number this year, general manager Dennis Leber said Sunday morning, but he couldn't give an exact count because Paul had gone home with the paperwork.

Paul, of course, is Paul Goldenberg, who launched himself toward cult status eight or nine years ago when his straightforward slogan, "I am the King," delivered without a trace of arrogance or irony, became a fixture of Southland radio and late-night TV.

A big screen, by Paul's definition, is 40 inches (diagonal measure) and up. If you remember a little geometry, you know that a 40-inch screen isn't twice as big as a 21-incher, it's nearly four times. Paul's has a few 70-inch models, too.

The big screens start at about $1,700 and go up to $5,000 or more, depending on whether SurroundSound is important to you. It's the Super Bowl. Of course it is.

Paul's in-store souvenirs include testimonials from Pope John Paul II and actor George Kennedy ("He is the King, and I'm his friend"). Also on display is Paul's royal crown, which he politely declines to model.

On Super Bowl Saturday, Paul was in civilian garb, a dark, double-breasted blazer and a restrained floral-print tie. He explained how his talented sales staff, by putting customers at ease and sitting them comfortably in front of a big screen, can smoothly guide them toward a decision that they might have only subconsciously considered.

No such salesmanship was needed Saturday. Most of the people crowding Paul's were already locked into big-screen mode; all they needed to know was how soon it could be delivered. Some Saturday night customers will gladly greet the truck at 2 a.m. rather than wait for daylight.

Pete and Anita Ortega from Pico Rivera bought a 60-inch model for their daughter and her two children. Their daughter didn't know it yet, but she was hosting a Super Bowl party.

"We didn't really want one so big," Anita said.

"Yes we did," Pete said. "I really wanted one for us," he added.

"We don't need one," Anita said.

Paul's sales area--there's only one store--has about the same floor space as a two-bedroom bungalow. When it's crowded, as on Saturday, the eight little tables up front are full of people filling out credit applications. Three-quarters of Paul's customers buy on credit.

Many Super Bowl fans find it easier to rationalize $84 a month than $2,000 or $3,000 in one gulp.

John Patricks and his friend Jane Thande, both of Anaheim, were among the few customers who were still on the fence Saturday.

"You've got to be careful," Patricks said, eyeing the credit application suspiciously.

They were at Paul's, they said, because Thande's brother had been begging them to buy a big screen to complete their Super Bowl party arrangements. So why wasn't her brother there?

"He doesn't want to pay the money," Thande said.

More in tune with the spirit were brothers Mike Nelson and Ted Mirabella of Anaheim, both in their 20s, big 6-footers and huge football fans.

They were planning to go to a Super Bowl party at somebody else's house, but Mike woke up thinking, "Hey, let's get a big screen and have our own party." They already owned a beer tapper.

At Paul's, they quickly settled on a 45-inch Mitsubishi.

"A hundred eighty-four channels," Mike said. "Now we got to get a satellite dish."

Awesome.

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