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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 March, 2005, 10:36 GMT
Locals cash in on Jackson trial
By Peter Bowes
BBC News in Santa Maria, California

A police officer from Santa Maria issues a parking ticket to TV satellite trucks
More than 1,000 journalists applied for accreditation to cover the trial
With the world's media covering the Michael Jackson trial in the small Californian town of Santa Maria, residents are making the most of the money-making opportunities.

Everyone in this town seems to have caught a bug. Not the kind that causes flu-like symptoms, but the contagious desire to make money from the headline-grabbing trial taking place on their doorsteps.

Santa Maria hotels are enjoying a boom in business during what is normally their slowest time of the year.

As well as its Romantic Getaway Package and a deal on a golfing weekend, one local inn has been advertising its Michael Jackson Trial Special.

This is, after all, the land of opportunity.

Carmen Jenkins of Coffee Diem cafe
I am not complaining - no-one is
Carmen Jenkins
Owner, Coffee Diem cafe
Behind the court, the ladies at Coffee Diem serve up lattes and office space with high-speed internet access - for a price.

The owner, Carmen Jenkins, says the trial has increased her business by about 1,000%. "I have a lot of bills - it's good,' she says.

The cafe is renting out office facilities for $250 (130) a seat. On the first day of jury selection, the asking price was $500. There was a full house of visiting reporters.

"I love you guys, it's wonderful. I am not complaining - no-one is," Ms Jenkins smiles.

A special website has been set up to promote local restaurants to the hordes of journalists and legal pundits staying in town.

The Gastronomic Guide to the Michael Jackson Trial includes a listing for The Hitching Post - the restaurant featured in Oscar-winning movie Sideways, which was filmed locally.

A video arcade in Santa Maria town centre is offering a "15% media discount with Press Pass/ID". Its flier, left on cars parked near the trial, makes the suggestion: "After a full day of motions in court, why not court over to MotionZ?"

It's just a bad situation in this town - but why not cash in on it?
Robert Bischoff
Cable engineer
Robert Bischoff, a local cable guy who installs high-speed internet and TV systems, has a plan to capitalise on the attention his town is receiving.

"I was trying to service a customer by the Michael Jackson trial and I had a miserable time trying to find a parking spot," he says.

"I'm thinking this is a zoo, an absolute zoo, and I got to thinking - why not stand over there and advertise something?

"Basically I'd be out there like all the other groupies. I'd put on maybe a crazy wig or something like that - try to get a little bit of attention - try to get in to the cameras," he explains.

Michael Jackson arriving in court in Santa Maria
A group of hardcore fans have also stayed in town
"I'll stand up there with your shirt, your company logo and try to get you some media attention."

Mr Bischoff, who says he wants to earn money for his children's education, admits: "I guess I'm taking advantage of a situation. It's just a bad situation in this town - but why not cash in on it?

"All the neighbours around there are charging rental for their prime locations for the TV cameras to set up. I guess I'm being an entrepreneur."

But he adds: "My mom thinks I'm a nut."

Another local man, lawyer Michael Clayton, owns a building with a flat roof opposite the courthouse.

"I've just put a staircase out the back so the media can get up on my roof," he says.

"I'm running six different spots on the roof for six different medias to video Michael Jackson coming and going and all the other people, the stars that he plans on bringing to defend him."

Red British bus for hire as media vantage point
A red British bus is available as a media vantage point
He is charging $2,500 (1,300) per news organisation per day to occupy a space on the roof. "It's a great Christmas bonus."

Adding to the surreal atmosphere, the lawyer's office also has an old British bus parked outside.

"It's a double-decker, a bright fire engine red," Mr Clayton says. "It will be a vantage point as well for any other media. It will be like an overflow to the roof."

But is it not rather unseemly to be so blatantly profiting from what is a serious criminal case?

"If somebody else owned this property and they decided not to put anybody on this property, I would call them a business idiot," Mr Clayton says.

"To the people who say I'm cashing in on this trial, the answer is - you're damn right, I am."


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