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They came, they saw, they spent.

The Downtown Clinton Coronation Was More Than a Historical Milestone -- It Was Good Business

IT WAS PROBABLY RUNNING through every mind in Little Rock on the night Bill Clinton became the next leader of the free world:

Maybe we've shed the stigma of the 1957 Central High crisis ...

Ironically, few people took notice of Daisy Bates on Tuesday night as she coasted down Markham Street in a wheelchair through an estimated throng of 50,000 people packed like kippers.

This courageous woman, who toiled to keep nine black children enrolled in a traditionally white school, is one of the few Arkansas in the history books.

On Nov. 3, as a new Arkansas character strolled into immortality, Bates slipped by because the crowd was too busy drinking, buying pizza, watching election returns, or counting their money.

The reversal of fortune that has put Bill Clinton's face in the spot formally occupied by a photograph of Little Rock Central High School is going to mean a lot to the city's business community.

Look at Alltel Mobile, a division of Alltel Corp.

The company's volume of cellular telephone calls doubled Tuesday, and was excruciatingly intense between 7 p.m. and midnight.

To shore up for the phone crunch, Alltel brought in $500,000 in portable cell equipment and doubled its numbers of available frequencies.

The lines were still jammed.

Throughout much of the afternoon, it was very difficult to place a mobile phone call in the Little Rock area.

Many of the estimated 4,000 journalists in town brought cellular phones with them, and Alltel made money on each of their calls, not to mention the daily "roaming fees" of up to $5.

Laura Newman, spokeswoman for Alltel Mobile, says some of the journalists probably kept open a cellular line all day just to make sure they could quickly communicate with their headquarters in other states.

Satellite Trucks Galore

The glowing sight of the Old State House was witnessed by television viewers all over the world, but many of the camera crews and other production workers on the scene were homegrown.

"We had our fingers in a few interesting pies," says Gary Jones, chairman of Jones Production Co.

Indeed.

After a long night on Tuesday, the company provided a satellite feed for a 6 a.m. Japanese television station on Wednesday.

Jones also provided mobile camera work for NBC coverage and filming crews for French television and MTV's "Rock the Vote" coverage.

At the Corporate Communications Group, president Phillip Moore had 40 employees scrambling for the Fox Network and Worldwide Television News. They also churned out Little Rock footage for television networks in Greece, Portugal, Mexico, Spain, Denmark and Germany.

And there were plenty of colorful moments to film, like the loud crash heard about 11:15 p.m. beneath a small willow oak on Markham Street. The would-be tree climber made a bold bid for a better view and paid for it with a swollen bottom.

No one in Little Rock benefited more than the downtown restaurants, and their uptown counterparts who got a piece of the action as street vendors.

"Oh my gosh."

That's the simple, stunned assessment of Shirley Iriana, manager of Iriana's Pizza at 103 W. Markham St.

Iriana's was arguably the hottest of the culinary hot spots on Tuesday night. The restaurant drained 20 kegs of beer on a 50-cent draft special.

"It was just standing room only," Iriana says. "We had people standing behind the register eating pizza. It was crazy. We didn't get out of here until after 3 a.m."

Similar swampings were found at eateries throughout the 12-square-block area, many of which stayed open until the wee hours of the morning.

The many street vendors, however, may not have fared as well because of traffic congestion.

Robyn Dickey, who coordinated the huge watch party for the Arkansas Democratic Party, says she noticed people piling up in front of the Old State House at about 7 p.m. in anticipation of Clinton's speech.

They Wouldn't Move

Unfortunately, they were standing right in front of the greatest concentration of street vendors, preventing a free flow of customers past the wafting odors of beef and mozzarella.

But, overall, she says, "Everybody seemed to have a wonderful time ... People would come up and hug me that I've never seen before."

Doug Spann, owner of Little Rock Limousine, says his luxury cars have been "completely booked" since the Sunday before the election.

The Clinton coronation brought clients such as Walt Disney Co., Columbia Pictures (which sent along stars Richard Dreyfuss and Woody Harrelson), Sony Corp., the City of Baltimore and talent scouts from Los Angeles ("Don't ask me," Spann says).

"I would say it's one of the busiest times we've ever had," he says.

The Arkansas Excelsior Hotel and Statehouse Convention Center were keys to the evening celebration, with both hosting watch parties for Clinton worshipers.

There were a few problems, however.

Linus Raines, Excelsior general manager, says the doors of the hotel had to be closed in the early evening, partly because thousands of visitors were clogging the lobby to watch the construction of a large ice sculpture of the White House.

All work at the hotel came to a halt at about 5 p.m. when the Secret Service began an hour-long sweep for bombs.

At 7 p.m., the assembled masses began chanting "Let us in" at the hotel doors. A roped corridor through the crowds was secured for persons leaving the hotel, and with each exit there was a murmur as people wondered whether they were looking at a celebrity.

Although each person who entered the Excelsior was searched with a metal detector, significantly slowing traffic, Raines says at least 20,000 people coursed through the Excelsior on Tuesday night.

"It's the most energy I've ever felt in this building," she says.

And it was only the beginning of a totally gonzo adventure for the Excelsior.

"Most of the staff stayed up all night for the activities of a full house of conventions on Wednesday," Raines says. "And I've been surprised how many people are checking in today although the election is over."
COPYRIGHT 1992 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:euphoria over Bill Clinton's victory results in more revenues for businesses in Little Rock, Arkansas
Author:Haman, John
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Nov 9, 1992
Words:1028
Previous Article:Money smells sweet in Heber Springs.
Next Article:Making it last: Clinton attention could boost winter tourism in Arkansas.
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