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Film Production Brings Badly Needed Bucks to Downtown

June Cleaver would be shocked.

Universal Pictures is pumping at least $250,000 into sleepy Santa Paula’s sluggish economy during the eight days it spends lensing a big-screen version of the television classic “Leave It to Beaver.”

About 400 residents are getting their chance for movie stardom with roles as extras. The dingy downtown has received a make-over--namely a coat of paint for eight Main Street buildings and the city’s landmark 1905 clock tower--to impart that freshly scrubbed, 1950s small-town America look.

The Chamber of Commerce is glowing over the civic improvements, the publicity and the influx of money. Especially the money.

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But all is not well in this ‘90s version of Mayfield, the fictional town that was home to the wholesome Beaver and his family.

Although the $10-million movie is providing a modest economic bonanza for some--the city has received $28,000 in permit fees and overtime for police--some store owners are less than enchanted by the Hollywood glitz.

“They’ve got the whole downtown closed off completely,” said crusty Jess Victoria, 72, his face as weathered as the shoes he has been repairing in his East Main Street store for more than a quarter of a century. “How are my customers going to get to my shop?”

Not easily.

Main Street is closed for two days, leaving store owners with little to do but peer through their doors at a business district turned movie set. Universal has attempted a little dollar diplomacy, giving Victoria and others at least $200 a day for their inconvenience.

Still, it’s the arrogance of the big-city outsiders that has annoyed some business people.

Carlos Guzman, 39, came to work at the restaurant he manages Thursday to find the exterior sign changed without his permission.

“Instead of La Playita Seafood it says ‘Jack’s Salty Seafood’ or something like that,” he said.

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Not only is business off about 25%, but he expects his water bill to go up because extras are using his washrooms.

Universal has attempted to mollify critics--setting up a $5,000 conflict resolution fund to be doled out by a panel. A free drawing will be held for Universal merchandise to attract shoppers. Location Manager Bruce Lawhead even purchased a belt from Victoria as he attempted to assuage him Thursday afternoon.

To be sure, most residents and business people are pleased at the positive publicity an American icon like the Beaver will bring to the burg.

The Chili Hut Cafe, Connie Hanks’ nondescript eatery and a downtown institution for 55 years, has been transformed into Mo’z Cafe, boasting jukebox and vinyl albums embedded in counter tops. She will retain the decor.

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“It’s going to be difficult for the old-timers to adjust, but . . . it’s a new image,” said the plump 54-year-old grandmother. "[The movie] is the best thing that ever happened to Santa Paula--and me.”


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