AFTER THE RIOTS: THE SEARCH FOR ANSWERS : Record Sales Plunged 21%

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Record sales plunged 21% in riot-ravaged Los Angeles last week as consumers stayed home while some retail outlets were looted or burned and others closed early to comply with the temporary dusk-to-dawn curfew.

Only 427,000 albums were sold last week in Los Angeles County, down from 543,000 two weeks ago, according to retailers. While there are weekly fluctuations in the record business, industry observers blamed last week's downturn on the regional strife.

"This has been one of the roughest weeks in my life," said Steven Crain, whose Crain's Records is located in an area along Pico Boulevard where numerous stores were torched. "I spent all night Friday guarding my store with a gun. They broke all the windows out. Everyone was seriously nervous for awhile there, but business is finally picking up again."

Industry sources were unable to say how many stores had been damaged or destroyed, although it was clear that several had been victimized.

Urban tension in other cities--including New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Atlanta--also contributed to a general 6.5% decrease in U.S. album sales last week--down to 8.5 million units from the 9.1 million figure of two weeks ago.

"National television coverage of the riot seemed to stop people from shopping just about everywhere except the South Central region of the nation," said Mike Fine, chief executive of SoundScan, the New York research firm that provides data for Billboard magazine's pop charts. "People were glued to their TV sets."

Jim Feldman, executive vice president of merchandising and advertising at the New York-based Record World chain, agreed. Sales in the New York City area declined about 13% last week.

"There were so many rumors and so much fear of possible violence that Brooklyn was practically empty," Feldman said. "People were fleeing wholesale from every urban street. It was eerie."

Bruce Jesse, vice president of advertising and sales promotion for Wherehouse Entertainment, which lost its La Brea Avenue store to an arson attack last Friday, said the week's sales slump is not the biggest problem facing retailers.

"This issue is a lot bigger than how many sales we lost last week," Jesse said. "Wherehouse intends to rebuild in the community, but how will the rest of corporate America and the government respond to these events? How will this affect business six months from now?"

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