Media attention focused on tragedy gives city a temporary business boost

04/28/2003 8:40 AM

11/20/2007 6:24 AM

Clayton Coffee & Tea hired extra staff. Dewz Restaurant ordered additional supplies. The Red Lion turned away guests wanting luxury suites.

Business boomed for Modesto's hospitality industry last week as camera crews and journalists from throughout the nation converged to cover the Scott and Laci Peterson story.

"It's a terrible thing to say, but our business has been great," said Judy Aspesi, who owns Dewz. Groups of journalists packed her tables for late-night dinners, and cooks stayed late to accommodate them. "We're not going to turn business away."

Her downtown restaurant is across the street from the Stanislaus County Courthouse, which has been a focal point of the story since Scott Peterson, 30, was arrested and charged in the deaths of his 27-year-old wife and unborn child.

Dozens of reporters, photographers and technicians flocked to the city -- tapping expense accounts for rooms, food and beverages. Especially coffee.

"We had guys coming in two or three times a day to get coffee," said Gretchen Peek, owner of Clayton Coffee. Her shop is near police headquarters, where more than 20 camera crews have been staked out at times.

"We had to bring in extra help," said Peek, who served media crews many meals to go. "It was nice to get that influx of business."

Unfortunately, the business boost came as the result of trag-edy.

"This is not a very fun way to get economic development," said Gary Plummer, president of the Chamber of Commerce. "And it's kind of a double-edged sword because while the hospitality industry may be benefiting, (the Peterson case) has caused a significant drain on government resources."

It also has been a devastating news story for everyone who knew Laci Peterson, and for Modesto as a whole.

"It certainly has made Mo- desto a household word, but not in the manner in which we would like it," Plummer said.

A similar media blitz surrounded the disappearance of Modesto's Chandra Levy. She vanished in Washington, D.C., in April 2001 and her remains were found there more than a year later.

She had a connection to then-Rep. Gary Condit of Ceres; he admitted to having a "very close" relationship with the former federal intern.

"Our luxury suites always sell out when anything like this happens," said Brad Saltzman, general manager of the Red Lion Hotel. The three-room suites there go for $255 a night.

Most media visitors do not splurge that much.

"The average economic impact for a night's stay in Modesto is $125 per room, per person (including meals)," said Cindy T'Souvas, who runs the Modesto Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Beyond the short-term boost for restaurants and hotels, T'Souvas said there might be a long-term benefit from all the publicity.

"Modesto's location is now known throughout America, and (the media coverage has) opened people's curiosity about our great city," T'Souvas said. "Hopefully, the next big story about us will be a positive one."

Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at 578-2196 or jnsbranti@modbee.com.

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