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Economic Rebound for Whom?

September 20, 1998|DIANE WEDNER

A recently published Cal State Northridge research center report on the San Fernando Valley's economic health indicates that the region is experiencing a broad recovery from the 1990s recession and 1994 Northridge earthquake.

The report, funded by corporate sponsors, reveals that retail and high-paying service jobs--particularly those supported by the entertainment and computer software industries--are on the rise, while manufacturing, finance, insurance and real estate jobs are declining.

DIANE WEDNER asked a Burbank clothing retailer and a recently laid off bank officer whether the purported economic resurgence has touched them.

MARSHA MASTERMAN / Studio City resident and owner of Two Sisters clothing store in Burbank

We've definitely been moving forward in my store. We're doing better every month. My sales so far this year are up about 15% from where they were last year at this time, which is significant for an El Nino year, in which people stayed away from stores because of the rain. I've been told by wholesalers at the downtown mart that we shouldn't even count last year because so many retailers suffered from the weather. The fact that our sales are up--and we're a small store--indicates that the [retail apparel industry] is healthy.

My store is on the border of Toluca Lake and is very close to many of the movie and television studios. Our clientele is largely from the entertainment industry, which is so strong right now. We're benefiting from their boom. The bread and butter of my business are the women who work at Disney Studios and Warner Bros., such as animators, voice-over artists, caterers and other behind-the scenes employees. We also cater to studio executives and producers who can afford higher-priced clothing. These customers are flocking to the store right now, especially with summer--traditionally the scariest time for retailers--winding down. We've been building steadily all year.

I opened the store in 1993. We had less overhead than we do now. Our business in these five years has probably doubled, at least. Lately, customers are dropping a lot more money than before, sometimes $1,000 at a time. They seem to have more money to spend.

Our location is a definite plus. I'm surrounded by office buildings with a very low vacancy rate, and we're in a walking neighborhood. I expanded the store three years ago and business has only increased. We're booming.

CATHY RIZZOTTI / West Hills resident and former bank mortgage-loan officer

Retail banking seems to still be thriving, but specialized banking, which I was involved in, is shrinking. I was in secondary marketing, in which I sold newly funded loans to investors. I held this position for five years at a large bank headquartered in Chatsworth and Northridge, where I was employed for nine years in all. Things were booming until about four years ago, when they started downsizing.

I felt pretty safe at first; management didn't come after our positions. We were told that when the merger with the out-of-state bank occurred we wouldn't lose our jobs. But six months later we switched buildings and then we were told we would have to either switch cities or departments. We soon realized we were on our way out. Finally, they announced our jobs would end in April, which is when I was laid off.

Losing my job was like a death in the family. I'm still grieving. It's a shock to wake up each morning and realize I don't have a job. It's very traumatic. Suddenly I found myself applying for unemployment insurance for the first time in my life. I had clawed my way up and then suddenly I lost my job. A colleague at the bank had been there for 23 years and was planning for her retirement. Now she has to find a whole new career because all the banks are merging. You can't find this type of work anymore.

In some fields, I know, the economy is booming. Even as I was being ushered out of my bank, the new recruits were coming in to be trained. They're young and working part-time with no benefits. It's just a job, not a career. For those of us leaving, we thought, "Look at who they're hiring. What about us?"

I'm relocating out of state, where the prospects are better and the cost of living is much cheaper. I'm hoping to do better there.

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