Serious disco goers say that disco is not only dancing, it's a way of life. And for a couple of local entrepreneurs who are opening the first disco for teens in the area, the twirling lights and whirling dancers could be a way to make money.
Discos in the Washington area are already a $10 million business, one disco manager said, and they have spread from the chic streets of Washington into suburban shopping centers. The latest progression is discos for teens, which already have appeared in the New York area and, for the first time a couple weeks ago, in Falls Church.
Littlefeet, the disco for youngsters aged 12 through 18, is a test run for an idea to make use of an untapped market - about 200,000 local teenagers with allowances to spend and no place to go.
When they tire of dancing amidst flashing lights, mirrors, posters of John Travolta and the Bee Gees, and the red, silver and black decor of the former Hot Shoppes Restaurant, the youngsters can sip non-alcoholic beverages like the Coco Cabana, Littlefeet Island Punch and Strawberry Smash.
Also planned is a disco shop where the teens can buy disco shoes, T-shirts and other disco paraphernalia.
"Just as a dance hall, I don't think it would work," said Littlefeet owner Tony Newton, who is also an owner of the Gandy Dancer restaurant on Capitol Hill. "Kids get hungry" so food is also sold. Nothing, except the $3 admission charge, costs more than $1, Newton said."We're looking at two already. We hope to open three or four."
Because of the large space available outside Washington and the tight energy situation making driving less economical, suburban discos are expanding, Newton said.
One manager of a suburban disco, who declined to be quoted by name, said a lot of people in the suburbs are in the disco age bracket. "The people who are going downtown, half of them are suburbanities," the manager said. "We just brought them closer to home."
That same manager, however, said that a year ago he considered opening a disco for teens, too, but he figured that because he wouldn't have revenue from liquor it would take him at least 12 years before he could turn a profit. He said he makes an 80 percent gross profit from every alcoholic drink he sells.
"You're talking about 16-year-olds . . . they're still on limited incomes," the manager said. "Their first love is still a car, and that's going to be come before anything."
The manager said that he grosses about $12 per person in an adult disco. With children, "You'd be lucky to get$5," he said. Waitresses would not want to work at a teen disco because they wouldn't get tips and, because of school days, teens are limited to attending discos on weekends, the manager said.
Newton admitted that he expects to earn only about $4.75 a person at his teen disco, which has a capacity of 300, buthe said he expects to break even at the end of the year anyway. Newtonsaid he and four other partners invested only about $40,000 into the club as opposed to at least $100,000 for most discos. The rent is low because the building is scheduled to be demolished for an apartment building in a year. Newton said the seven corners site is just a testing ground.
The manager, who didn't want his name printed, said that to make a profit a disco owner should gross $15,000 a week in sales. But Newton said he only expects to make $72,000 for the year. "I can make as much off Coca-Cola as others do off liquor," Newton said.
By the end of his second year, he expects to make a 75 percent profit as opposed to the 4 or5 percent restaurants make.
Littlefeet opened on May 18 and was a success, Newton said. On Sunday, however, when it opened from 1 p.m. to 1 a.m., hardly any teens showed up, Newton said. Even on Friday and Saturday, when the disco also was open until 1 a.m., most of those attending left between 11:30 p.m. and midnight, Newton said.
His next disco venture? Newton said that if the teen disco is successful, He's going to try a family night where the whole family can disco together. Because of additional construction, however, Newton said he is not sure if littlefeetwill open this weekend.
Littlefeet hired four adults and several teens, including a 16-year-old D.J. who calls himself Dr. Rock, Newton said. No smoking or alcoholic beverages are allowed.
"I didn't find them to be monsters" said Newton who has a 14-year-old daughter. "They probably responded better to us than their parents." CAPTION: Picture 1, Littlefeet owner Tony Newton in the pinball section of his Falls Church disco: test run for an untapped market. By Gerald Martineau - The Washington Post; Picture 2, Littlefeet co-owner Fred C. Moore spins records in the control room of the Falls Church disco for teenagers. By Gerald Martineau - The Washington Post