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One Year Later, Video Industry Looks Back at Sept. 11

6 Sep, 2002 By: Thomas K. Arnold

For those in the video industry who were directly affected by the tragic events of Sept. 11, things are getting back to normal.

Slowly. Finally.

Dan Gurlitz, VP and general manager of home video for Wellspring Media, was watching the explosion that racked the north tower of the World Trade Center when he saw the second hijacked jet plow into the south tower.

“Sept. 11, 2001 was a terrible day,” he said. “I could never put into words anything that would even remotely begin to describe the severity and intensity of it.

“I was at the Wellspring office [on Park Avenue, between 28th and 29th streets] when it happened. I saw the second plane hit the second tower through a pair of binoculars from a terrace we have. It used to afford a wonderful view of the World Trade Center.”

This year, on the one-year anniversary of the attacks, Gurlitz said he will “take the day off from work to be with my family, all together, for the entire day. I'm certain we'll come up with something to do, or we'll do nothing and that will be plenty.”

Steve Scavelli, president of Flash Distributors, was in Manhattan the day of the attacks, just across the Hudson River from his company's headquarters in Brooklyn.

He heard the planes hit, and by 10:45 a.m. was at the Twin Towers, helping to clear streets of debris so emergency vehicles could pass through, get injured civilians to the rescuers, build stretchers, work the water and food brigade, and “anything else that needed to be done at the spur of the moment,” he recalled.

Nearly a year later, Scavelli said he still has nightmares.

“Nary a week goes by that I don't wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat,” he said.

Scavelli said he plans on marking the one-year anniversary of the attacks by going to downtown Manhattan.

“I plan on arriving there about 7 a.m., the same time I got there last year, and saying prayers and pondering life and what it is all about,” he said. “I'll have a few moments of silence at the appropriate times, and stay until 11 a.m., when I will take the train back to Brooklyn to put in a good day's work.

“I think it is important that we honor those who lost their lives and those who put their lives on the line to rescue the injured, and also to show the maniacs out there that we are not afraid to go anywhere or do anything we choose, and that we will carry on our lives by continuing to work as usual.”

Michael Becker, who owns two Video Room stores in New York City, didn't know last week what he would do Sept. 11. “I'll be talking with other merchants to determine our course of action,” he said.

Last year on that day, Becker's Battery Park City store, just four blocks from Ground Zero, never opened for business.

“We sustained a large amount of dust and debris in and around the store,” Becker said. “We were closed for three weeks afterwards as Battery Park City was evacuated after the strike and not reopened to tenants for that period of time.”

Now, he said, that store “is pretty much back to where it should be based on prior years. April of this year was the first month that equaled previous numbers, so all in all we are very happy. The entire Battery Park City neighborhood is vibrant and bustling once again, and there are very few empty apartments and no empty retail stores.”

Both Scavelli and Becker were fortunate in that they didn't lose as much as some retailers. Borders Books and Music, Sam Goody's and Radio Shack all had stores in The Mall at the World Trade Center, directly below the twin 110-story towers that were felled by hijacked jets.

Elsewhere around the country, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks caused a virtual shutdown of the entertainment industry, as productions halted and major awards shows were postponed. The Hollywood studios were temporarily closed in the wake of the attacks after federal officials warned them they, too, were potential targets.

Today, security guards continue to search cars entering studio compounds, and previously unguarded parking structures like the one at Warner Home Video's Burbank headquarters are now gated and patrolled.

Studio personnel, meanwhile, are wondering whether their studios will even be open Sept. 11, although no official word has yet been given.

“It's a new world,” said Fritz Friedman, SVP of worldwide publicity for Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment. “Sept. 11 changed many things.”

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