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Merchants Hope World Cup Kick-Starts Slow Economy : Soccer: Businesses bet on a $623-million bonanza. Residents dread crowds. So far, hotel bookings lag.

May 31, 1994|TINA DAUNT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tom Rosenstein spent an afternoon fixing his espresso machine, ordering foreign cigarettes and figuring out how to say "Welcome World Cup" in 15 languages.

With tens of thousands of tourists descending on the Rose Bowl in a few weeks to watch seven matches and the championship of the international soccer tournament, Rosenstein and hundreds of other merchants and restaurateurs are hoping the event will be their ticket out of the financial doldrums.

World Cup organizers figure the tournament will give a $623-million kick to the region's economy between June 17 and July 17--a month of tourists shopping, dining and finding other ways to spend money.

Already, a world class marketing blitz has begun to overtake Los Angeles. At the corner convenience store you can buy your official World Cup mug. For your official World Cup wardrobe--from hat to shoes--stop by any of your favorite malls. On the way there, of course, you will undoubtedly see billboards pitching the products of some of the tournament's sponsors.

By the time the final game arrives, the World Cup's mascot, Striker the Dog, could rival Barney the Dinosaur as Los Angeles' most overexposed celebrity.

Just how big is all this supposed to get? Some Pasadena officials say it will be like cramming the crowds of eight Rose Parades into a span of less than a month. If the numbers hold, it would be a dream come true for the Chamber of Commerce, but a nightmare for some of the city's residents.

For example, forget about a July wedding in Pasadena. Hotel and reception rooms in the city are a scarce commodity during the final week of the tournament, although room bookings during June have been disappointingly low.

While Pasadena plans dozens of events to lure tourists, some residents have begun plotting their escape.

"The traffic, the noise," said Rosemary Lonergan, who lives near the Rose Bowl. "I'm going to Santa Barbara."

Traffic, crowds and revenue estimates aside, American soccer buffs are using the event as an opportunity to tout their sport.

During June and July, soccer groups and officials throughout the Los Angeles area will be sponsoring workshops and cultural festivals to raise community awareness and bring together locals and foreign visitors.

Rosenstein, who owns the Pasadena Creamery yogurt shop and the General Store in Old Pasadena, said he is determined to get in on the action.

"During the 1984 Olympics, we were all supposed to get rich and that didn't happen," Rosenstein said. "I'm going to keep my expectations realistic. I don't expect to make a year's worth of revenue in one month. But we hope to get our share of what's out there."

If the giant welcome sign fails to lure customers into his Colorado Boulevard yogurt shop, Rosenstein will offer another incentive to hungry tourists: an international ice cream sundae, complete with French vanilla ice cream and Italian gelato, espresso-flavored.

"You've got to be creative if you want to compete," he said.

Mark Tourgeman, owner of the nearby World Classics clothing store, hopes to win over visitors with used Levi's and a wide selection of bowling shirts, the kind Dad used to wear in the '50s.

"Retro. Everything is very, very retro," Tourgeman said.

And for the foreign travelers who are into the Seattle scene, Tourgeman has expanded the grungewear section.

"We figure everything American will be big sellers," he said.

Around the corner at Game Trends, a novelty shop off Colorado Boulevard, store manager Erin Noonan has spent the past four months stocking up on World Cup trinkets.

For $12.99, you can buy a candy jar with a miniature soccer ball and shoes sealed inside the glass lid. A pack of playing cards decorated with the World Cup emblem is available for $4.50. And for big spenders, there's a giant nylon banner picturing a soccer ball. The price: $53.

There's another benefit from the tournament besides increased tourism dollars, Noonan said. It's the foreign men.

"I have visions of Raul Julia and Andy Garcia," said Noonan, age 19 and single. Grinning, she added: "It will be very, very nice to see the Spanish and the Colombian guys."

Bride-to-be Amanda Beall, however, dreads the giant soccer fest. She had no idea what the World Cup was--until a few months ago, when she started planning her July 23 wedding in neighboring San Marino.

Now she is struggling to find hotel rooms in Pasadena to accommodate relatives when they arrive from Connecticut the week of the championship game.

"I called literally five or six hotels looking for rooms. Nothing," she said. "Picking this date was a big, big mistake. If I had known, I would have totally done it differently. Can you imagine the human overload in Pasadena?"

Even in a city that has become accustomed to throngs of people descending on its doorstep for the Rose Bowl every New Year's Day and for an occasional Super Bowl, this will be a challenge.

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