They tried police patrols, curfews on arcade games and bright lights.
Now officials at Southland Corp. are hoping that Thousand Oaks youths who hear the violin strains of a Brandenburg Concerto at their local 7-Eleven store will take their Slurpees and run.
For two weeks now, seven days a week, 24 hours a day, Southland has been dousing the store with Muzak as a sort of defense system against hordes of loitering youths. On Friday night, the selection of classical music was on target.
“It puts me to sleep,” said Scott Linder, 26, as he stood outside the store with a group of about 10 friends.
Kurt Wolf, 20, had harsher words about the selection of chamber music that was being blasted through a pair of tinny speakers into the convenience store’s parking lot.
“It will keep us away,” he said. “But they’re torturing themselves more than us because they have to sit inside and listen to it.”
Joe Gomes, Southland’s operations manager for Ventura County, said the Thousand Oaks store at 3309 Kimber Drive is one of six in Southern California that is being subjected to the unusual musical experiment.
By playing Muzak, Southland hopes to drive away loiterers who hang out at the 24-hour convenience stores and harass customers.
So far, Gomes said, it’s working.
“It’s acting like a teen-age repellent,” Gomes said. Teens “think that if they’re going to camp out at any location, they’re not going to do it with that kind of music playing.”
It has worked so well, Gomes said, that Southland will widen the circle to Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley, including Woodland Hills, North Hollywood and Lakeview Terrace.
Those stores are expected to begin piping Muzak into their parking lots within a week.
Gomes refused to say how much Southland is paying to play Muzak. But he described the cost as “relatively inexpensive.” After three or four months, Southland will decide whether it should continue, he said.
Representatives of the Seattle-based Muzak Inc. are only too glad to spread the musical word. A new facet of its promotional campaign features stories about communities in Pennsylvania and Florida that have handled loitering problems by zapping teens with Muzak.
Thousand Oaks authorities are also watching the 7-Eleven with interest, said Ventura County sheriff’s Deputy Chris Lathrop, a crime prevention officer.
The numerous calls the Sheriff’s Department receives have caused authorities to name the shopping center where the 7-Eleven is located as one of the major trouble spots in Thousand Oaks.
Almost every weekend, patrol cars are summoned to cruise around the parking lot and break up groups of up to 100 youths. So far, Lathrop said he has not noticed a significant decline in calls. However, the deputy, who admits he is a country-Western music fan, said he is keeping an open mind.
“If it’s working at the 7-Eleven, we’ll be happy to recommend it to other stores that have similar problems,” Lathrop said.
“If it isn’t, at least the store has pleasant music to listen to.”
Just how pleasant is really a matter of taste.
Muzak Inc. offers a wide range of pre-programmed easy-listening tunes to businesses. In company brochures, Muzak says it aims to encourage shoppers to open up their pocketbooks and fancy restaurant diners to linger over wine and dessert.
“Its breezy elegance adds the luster of luxury to your atmosphere and merchandise,” one Muzak brochure boasts. “Some of the best settings in town are superbly finished with ‘Light Classical’ music by Muzak.”
Elegant and superb are not words that members of the under-30 crowd use to describe the tunes. And teen-agers who favor the dark parking lot say beer, not wine, is their drink of choice.
“They should play something fast,” said John Villela, 18, after he careened across the parking lot on his skateboard. Villela said he prefers groups with names like Obituary and Napalm Death.
“A lot of people here like Metallica,” agreed Keith Botts, 21. “This is elevator music. I don’t know who Andy Williams is, but I know it’s the kind of music you hear when you’re put on hold.”
Duke Redline, 16, strained to hear the music above the arcade-game noise of car crashes and machine guns in the corner of the 7-Eleven store.
“I don’t know what they’re playing, but it’s too loud,” he said.
While teen-agers were critical, the musical selection appeared to be an over-30 crowd pleaser.
“It adds a touch of class,” said Joan Morrow, 54, listening to one of the Brandenburg Concertos.
Bob Gordon, 46, who stopped for laundry detergent, said the musical selections clashed with his own tastes, which run more to late 1960s hits. But he approved of using Muzak to keep teen-agers at bay.
“Yeah, it’s the kind of music that would keep them away,” Gordon said. “If there’s going to be a deterrent, this is what it should be.”