By DAVID BRINDLEY

Staff Reporter

March Madness is now upon us except it's the Academy Awards, not basketball, that is on the minds of many Los Angeles businesses this month.

As usual, there's big money to be made from the glitter, glamour and gold of the annual extravaganza. And Los Angeles businesses, from limousine companies to hotels and restaurants, are raking in a lot of the economic rewards.

"It's an awesome evening, a wonderful opportunity for this town," said Marvin Miller, owner of Advanced Limo, whose business is expected to increase up to 20 times the norm next Monday night.

Miller has been providing chauffeured limousines for the Academy Awards for 51 years. On Oscar Monday his entire fleet will be out in full force, as stars are driven to the Shrine Auditorium and to the post-Oscar parties around town.

Miller estimates that anywhere from 300 to 600 limos from various companies will be used for the event. In addition to the regular charges ($50 to $100 an hour 10-hour minimum), some clients ask for extra service. Last year, two of Miller's limousines were hired for a post-Awards trip to Las Vegas, at $1,200 each plus the hourly fee.

On top of the millions of dollars that studios spend to promote their films and stars more than $10 million in trade magazine ads alone by some estimates are the millions spent on parties, hotels and all manner of business.

How much money the Academy Awards generates for local businesses is really anyone's guess. For as much as the awards ceremony brings in, the actual figure isn't tracked by local officials.

Jack Kyser, chief economist of the Economic Development Corp. of L.A. County, said the awards ceremony has a "fairly significant impact, and the idea is that it hits a lot of sectors throughout the whole economy," but he couldn't cite a dollar figure.

Neither could the Entertainment Industry Development Corp. of Los Angeles, or the Los Angeles Convention and Visitor's Bureau. All of them, though, indicated that the awards bring in a significant amount of money to L.A., especially for the kinds of businesses that typically cater to the rich and famous.

A check with a number of businesses around town reveals that, on average, those offering Oscar-related services, such as hotels, hair salons, and even plastic surgeons, get a boost of about 20 percent above normal business.

With Hollywood's emphasis on looks, it's the image makers, or image enhancers, whose business really expands.

Take, for instance, Dr. Ronald Matsunaga, a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon who specializes in facial surgery. Matsunaga is booked solid right up to the Oscars as Hollywood's elite plumps their puckered lips and fights nature's aging process before the big event. He lists among his clients a number of entertainment stars, both men and women, some of whom will be in the spotlight at the awards.

Procedures tend to be straightforward (requiring just a couple of days of recuperation). For example, there are Botox injections, in which a solution is injected into the muscles around the eye to smooth the surface of the skin for up to six months. Also popular are collagen injections, which plump up skin to obtain larger, more luscious-looking lips. That procedure runs $400 per syringe of collagen, with some patients using up to three syringes.

Oscar-related procedures generate a 25 percent to 30 percent increase in business. "The emphasis is on youth, and people want to put their best image forward," said Matsunaga.

Of course, hair salons and beauty spas are kept busy.

Cristophe Hair Salon in Beverly Hills, whose owner is known as the "stylist to the stars," extends its hours through the month of March, staying open on Mondays to handle the increased traffic. Only about a third of Cristophe's stylists actually work in the salon; the rest make housecalls, charging from $150 to $300 an hour.

Overall, business picks up by 20 percent to 30 percent for Cristophe stylists during Academy Awards season, said Christophe. "It's stressful, but I am happy to have the business," he said.

Business also increases by 20 percent at the Jose Eber Salon, where clients spend up to $500 for a four-hour inclusive spa treatment. The 10,000-square-foot spa in Beverly Hills employs 70 people, many of whom will be working next Monday.

"People are watching the Oscars to see what the stars look like," said Jose Eber, owner of the spa. "It's all about looking great, and we are benefiting from the awards, that's the beauty of it."

At the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, suites are booked solid starting in January, and especially for the weekend before the Oscars. "People are banging on the doors to get in," said Andrea Werbel, director of public relations.

The hotel's 244 rooms and suites, starting at $350 and ranging up to $3,000 for the top-of-the-line Peninsula Suite, are sold out Saturday through Monday night.

Even the phone company makes money. Pacific Bell is supplying a 500-line phone system for the Academy, plus 250 separate phone lines for media outlets and 23 high-speed ISDN lines for Internet transmissions. It will also provide the fiber-optic cables through which live video feed will travel for broadcast transmission around the world.

"This represents hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue for us," said Steve Getzug, a Pacific Bell spokesman. "Beyond that is the exposure that goes with being the communications equipment provider for the Oscars."

Fruit basket companies also profit from the Academy Awards. Sales at FanciFull Gift Baskets increased by $3,000 to $5,000 last year, compared to a normal sales week of $20,000. Dozens of baskets filled with gourmet foods and champagne which can run up to $900 are routinely delivered around town before and after the event. Last year, someone sent a basket in appreciation for being given Oscar tickets.

"Being in Hollywood is a definite boost," said Wally August, co-owner of FanciFull.

Kyser notes that the event, no matter what the actual bottom-line benefit, brings intangible exposure for businesses and for the local economy. It "adds to the glamour of the entertainment industry," said Kyser. "This is the type of advertising that money can't buy."

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