NEW YORK (AP) _ When the U.S.-led war against Iraq began two weeks ago, the CEO of the American Booksellers Association was on his annual spring tour, meeting with retailers throughout the country.

Avin Mark Domnitz kept hearing the same concerns about ``the rapid deterioration'' of business in the bookselling world.

``These are indeed challenging times for independent booksellers, as the continued softness of the national economy and international events have hit many of our members hard,'' Domnitz wrote in an e-mail posted Thursday on the association's Web site.

The news is bad throughout the arts and entertainment industry, with business down for book and record stores, museums, movie theaters and Broadway shows. If the war has led some to seek escape in comedy such as the Steve Martin-Queen Latifah movie ``Bringing Down the House,'' others have decided to stay home.

``It's been hard to get customers in,'' says Diane Routson, owner of Thackeray's Books, in Toledo, Ohio.

``I think a lot of people are in front of their television sets, watching the news.''

The top 12 movies grossed $87.3 million for the weekend ending March 30, down 24 percent compared to the same weekend a year ago. Those who did show up looked for laughs, with ``Head of State'' and ``Bringing Down the House'' the biggest hits at the box office.

``There's strong evidence that comedies are on people's minds,'' said Jim Tharp, head of distribution for DreamWorks, which released ``Head of State,'' starring Chris Rock.

According to Nielsen SoundScan, album sales through March 30 have dropped around 9 percent compared to last year, from 160.5 million units to 144.6 million. On Broadway last week, total box-office receipts for 27 shows fell to $12.5 million, down from nearly $12.9 million the previous week.

The war has affected both independent booksellers, the core members of the American Booksellers Association, and the superstore chains. Borders Group Inc. issued a statement earlier this week saying it expects a loss in the first quarter, citing disappointing sales.

``Traffic and sales have slowed as the nation focuses on the ongoing Iraq conflict,'' Greg Josefowicz, Borders Group chief executive, said in a statement Thursday.

Many museums around the country also report drops in attendance, especially regional or specialty institutions.

George G. King, director of the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, N.M., said the museum's March attendance was down 16 percent compared to last year. The museum relies on tourists for attendance _ 87 percent of the visitors last year came from outside New Mexico.

``I think travelers have curtailed their plans for both economic reasons and also because of the war,'' King said. ``There is a certain degree of uneasiness with everything.''

At Monticello _ the home of Thomas Jefferson in Charlottesville, Va. _ attendance through March was down 25 percent compared to the same period last year, despite the first yearlong exhibition in 10 years. ``Framing the West at Monticello'' commemorates the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

``We usually have a lot of foreign visitors, mostly from Japan and Europe. We have not seen any of them lately,'' said Monticello spokesman Wayne Mogielnicki.

At The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, attendance last week for the museum's current Russian-themed exhibits was half what it had been the week before, said Ann Wilson, the museum's director of marketing and communication.

``We're calling it the CNN effect. I just don't think people are venturing away from their television sets and their homes,'' she said.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Associated Press Writer Tara Burghart contributed to this report.

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