The bears may be ripping through Wall Street, but retailers and many consumers say confidence in the economy remains high in Los Angeles.
"I bought stock Wednesday and I am buying more stock today," said Charlotte Parker, co-owner of Parker Public Relations. "I am in this for the long term, and I'm going out to buy a small cabin near Lake Arrowhead."
Fueled by the stock market surge of the late '90s, Angelenos have been on a spending spree that has seen homes sell for $15 million and up, parking lots jammed with Jaguars, and men sporting $100 ties and smoking $25 Cuban cigars. Although there are some reports of nervousness in New York over Wall Street's erratic behavior, L.A.'s high-end consumers don't seem ready to change their spending habits.
"Nobody has jumped out of escrow yet," said Linda May, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker in Beverly Hills. "I think there might be some people that play the market on a daily basis who might be affected, but our city is not like New York, where wealth is more directly tied to the market moving up and down."
May said she has been has been showing $1 million homes, and her clients are not blinking at the prices.
"If this was long term and the fluctuation continued, it might have an effect," she said. "But if this is just a bump, then people will stay cool."
At Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills, business during August was not only brisk, but ahead of last year, according to Kirk Gerou, the store's spokesman.
"The upper-end consumer will be less reactive," he said. "They are in the stock market for the long term. We have to ride this out to see what happens."
Some retailers and restaurateurs along Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills report a drop-off in business though the major culprit appears to be the heat rather than the economy.
A spokeswoman for Spago in Beverly Hills said the restaurant is off 15 percent at lunch and dinner.
"When our Maitre D' calls people to ask why they are canceling, they say it is too hot and they are getting food to go," the spokeswoman said. "The heat is playing a big role. Many people are in such a down mood because of the heat that they don't want to come out even though they have air-conditioned cars and we have air conditioning."
Said Spago co-owner Barbara Lazaroff: "The market goes in cycles. Some people might be panicking, but by October I expect the economy to be pretty darn good. Right now, I see this as the market correcting itself."
Ali Kasikci, general manager of Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, where room rates start at about $400 a night, said he has seen no immediate impact on consumer confidence.
"We've had one or two cancellations, but it is from people who can't leave the office, not because of financial pressures," he said. "They have to be in the office to make calls."
Still, the Asian financial crisis does seem to be having some impact.
"Most of the (negative) effect on us is from the Japanese market, and not from the U.S. stock market," said Ron Michaels, who runs the Louis Vuitton store in Beverly Hills and is president of the Rodeo Drive Committee. "We have seen the yen lose ground against the dollar, and there has been a general decrease on the street from this."
As for problems in the stock market, many Angelenos believe they will have a greater impact on New York, whose economy is more directly tied to Wall Street's fluctuations, than Los Angeles.
Keven Bellows, vice president and general manager of the syndicated radio show, "The Dr. Laura Schlessinger Program," isn't afraid of spending money. She just bought a $700 dishwasher and made a down payment on a $10,000 trip to a Mexican health spa with her daughters next February.
"I think this is just what the market does," she said. "It goes up and people take some profit. I am not concerned."
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