The same Southern California consumers who gave retailers a ho-hum Christmas season seem determined to celebrate this New Year's Eve, even though they are loaded with debt up to their funny party hats.
But there is one important difference this year--many of those who party may be doing so sober.
Party supply stores report that they are selling a steady stream of streamers, confetti, balloons, hats and noisemakers, and party rental operations say tables, chairs and other equipment are moving well.
But some liquor stores say business is down, and some caterers contend that parties this year are smaller, ending earlier or starting later in the evening to discourage excessive drinking.
Heavily advertised special New Year's Eve events are experiencing mixed ticket sales, but hopeful promoters say sales could pick up today because New Year's Eve partiers are notoriously late planners. And many Southern California restaurants are fully booked for tonight's festivities, whether for special parties or operations as usual.
Smaller Gatherings in Vogue
Business at the Abbey Rents Party Center on La Brea Avenue is up this year over last, but "we don't have many large, deluxe parties," said Nadine Trujillo, assistant manager. "It seems to be a lot of small, intimate gatherings," she said. "A lot of people have chosen to entertain at home this year instead of going out."
At Vine American, a party supply store on Melrose Avenue, this month's sales are 30% better than sales last December, manager Leslie Mclaughlin said. "People are buying hats, horns, noisemakers, serpentines, confetti . . . everything you can think of."
Party World in Burbank is enjoying similar brisk sales of New Year's Eve party paraphernalia with one exception--sales of plastic champagne glasses are slow, manager Sue Rosten said. "The only thing that people are going to be cutting down on is the drinking," she said.
Liquor store owners concur, saying that the public is responding to a crackdown on drunk drivers as evidenced by surprise sobriety checkpoints and to a general increased concern over drinking too much.
"It's a different story--people aren't having parties like they used to," said Hank Uchio, owner of the King's Cellar liquor store on the Sunset Strip. Uchio said his sales are down sharply compared to past holiday seasons.
"People are afraid of this drunk driving," he said, "and the money's tight this year."
Dan Patterson, owner of Chic's Liquor in Eagle Rock, noted that his catering business is "booming" but that sales of liquor--particularly distilled spirits--have dropped.
"They're eating more and drinking less," Patterson said. "The trend's been coming on for the last few years, it's just worse this year."
Patterson said he offers coffee, doughnuts and a free ride home to New Year's Eve customers who have imbibed too much. "Last year I had six cars left overnight," he said.
Caterer Charlie Scola said customers of his Life's A Party catering business are ending their parties earlier this year and are opting for smaller gatherings.
"I think a major, major, major concern for people is drinking and driving," he said. "It's making for a much safer New Year's."
Beverly Hills caterer Randy L. Fuhrman said that he is doing more parties this year than last, adding that many are small. "People are concerned about the sobriety checks because they don't know where they are," he said.
Fuhrman, who travels the nation as a representative for Southern Comfort, said he has noticed increased concern about excessive drinking across the country. "It seems like everywhere I was traveling it was anti-alcohol week," he said.
Special Events Mixed
Michael Aprato, owner of Opus II catering, said that many of his customers are worried about their guests drinking too much and are asking about cab services, shortening the pre-dinner cocktail hour or starting cocktail parties later.
Some large special events reported good ticket sales, while others were less promising.
A $75-per-person New Year's Eve bash hosted by disc jockey Rick Dees at the Bonaventure hotel is about 75% sold and probably will be sold out, said Elaine Tallas-Cardon, who heads advertising and promotions for the Icehouse nightclub, which also has handled reservations for the Bonaventure party. A separate $70-per-person party at the Bonaventure's Top of Five restaurant is completely booked.
Francois restaurant in downtown Los Angeles reported that it is booked up for its special four-course dinner. Chippendales, which is replacing its usual male revue with a party, said that reservations are "real good."
But advance sales on Monday were slow for the $75-per-person combination dinner buffet and concert by rocker Teena Marie at the Palace. About 400 of 1,200 tickets had been sold by mid-afternoon Monday, behind the pace set by previous New Year's Eve shows, but "it could get crazy tomorrow," office manager Onica Peters said.
Ritz-Carlton Sold Out
One clear New Year's Eve trend is what hotel industry executives call "combination" bookings. Celebrants are booking dinner reservations and hotel rooms at the same place.
Under that scenario, the place to be seen--and to stay--on New Year's Eve in Orange County, where New Year's Eve business is booming, appears to be the Ritz-Carlton. The lavish Laguna Niguel hotel is hosting three major events--all of which have been sold out for three months, said Linda Adams, the hotel's director of public relations.
The cheapest date at the Ritz-Carlton is a $50-per-person dinner and dance in the hotel's cafe. There is also a $100-per-person, eight-course dinner in the hotel's dining room and a $150-per-plate dinner and dance package in the hotel's 400-seat ballroom.
The hotel's 393 rooms--from $150 to $1,200 per night--are also completely sold out on New Year's Eve. Most of the rooms were booked by party-goers at the time they made dinner reservations, Adams said. With many of those reservations from the Los Angeles area, "people don't want to drink and drive," she said.
Seeing similar signs of a big night is the Westin South Coast Plaza. Under package deals aimed at luring holiday visitors, the 394-room Costa Mesa hotel cuts room rates at least in half between Dec. 24 and Jan. 5, said Lynn Moberg, group reservations agent. Rooms that normally cost $140 to $160 per night will cost just $60 per couple on New Year's Eve, she said.
"A lot of people are booking rooms and dinner reservations at the same time," Moberg said. The Westin South Coast Plaza's 125-seat restaurant, Alfredo's, is hosting an $85-per-person, single seating dinner. Although the hotel still has rooms available, the restaurant is "completely booked," said Angelo Capello, restaurant manager.
Other Orange County restaurants are also predicting a strong New Year's Eve--but more for menu dining than specialty dining.
Menu dining reservations in the 150-seat main dining room at the Orange County Mining Co. in Santa Ana are "booked from the time we open until the time we close," said Sam Donham, the restaurant's auditor. But the more costly $40-per-person dinner and dance in the restaurant's 200-seat banquet room still has seats available, she said.
At the Bouzy Rouge in Newport Beach, menu dining is also on tap for New Year's Eve. "That seems to be what people want," said Tony Hermann, owner of the 95-seat restaurant.
Masked Ball Downtown
He said the restaurant is "virtually booked" for New Year's Eve. Hermann said he spent much of Monday calling all parties to reconfirm their reservations.
Many of San Diego's organized parties tonight are sold out. At the Hotel del Coronado, the annual "Extravaganza Dinner Dance" for $95 per person has been booked for one week, and another party in the hotel's Crown Room is about 70% sold out.
Horton Plaza, downtown San Diego's 5-month-old state-of-the-art shopping center, will host a $35-per-person masked ball, with proceeds going to four area childrens' charities.
Times staff writers Bruce Horovitz in Orange County and Bill Ritter in San Diego contributed to this story.