by Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — The lockout of NHL hockey players may be coming to an end. And with it, business at area bars and restaurants could soon return to normal.
One of the hardest hit industries throughout the region, and wherever else NHL hockey is a major entertainment provider, local watering holes have been struggling to maintain their income for more than 113 days has passed since the work stoppage left fans out in the cold.
“It’s been huge,” Ken Scibetta, co-owner of Lewiston Village Pub, said. “It really killed us during the week, on weekdays. But people are really excited now and so are we. And not just from a business perspective. This is Buffalo, this is Western New York. It’s a hockey town, on both sides of the border.”
Scibetta said as soon as he heard the news about the lockout ending early Sunday, he took to the bar’s Twitter feed and sent out a message. It read, “We’ve got Blue & Gold fever! #GoSabres.”
Throughout the lockout, the bar did have its fair share of hockey on its televisions, though. Thanks to the Madison Square Garden network airing repeats of past games, ranging from the 1970s throwbacks – like the “fog” game and the team’s defeat of the Soviet Union olympic team – to the most recent playoff runs and dramatic goals current fans are more familiar with.
Bars and restaurants aren’t the only ones hit hard by the NHL lockout, though. Other, lesser thought of businesses have also experienced quite the hit.
Dave and Adam’s Card World, located at 1595 Military Road in the Town of Niagara, has seen its shelves more full than usual these last few weeks as hockey has been off the minds of many
“The lockout definitely impacted our sales of apparel, for sure,” Justin Woodruff, a manager at the store, said. “People would come into the store before games and buy (items).”
He said the store, which specializes in sports trading cards, should also see sales pick up, even though no food or alcohol is involved, as the Sabres return to the ice, expected to occur some time next week.
One of the questions that arises now, of course, and after any sort of stoppage for that matter, is will the fans come back? This is the third labor dispute in Commissioner Gary Bettman’s tenure, and though the fans returned in the past, the jury is out this time.
NHL fan Steve Chase started the grass roots “Just Drop It” campaign that encouraged fans to skip one NHL game for every game canceled after Dec. 21st. He asked fans to pledge they would not spend a penny or a minute of their time on tickets, TV, merchandise, all things NHL.
More than 21,000 fans had clicked the “like” button on the group’s Facebook page by Sunday night. And Chase, who lives in Los Angeles, wrote on the site he would stay true to his commitment.
He planned to boycott in all forms at least the first 10 games of the season.
History shows the fans, dressed in team colors, standing for two anthems, will return. Likely, in record numbers.
The NHL drew 20,854,169 fans in 2005-06 when the sport returned from a one-year layoff. That was 497,970 more than in 2003-04, the season before the lockout. The league saw an attendance uptick each of the next three seasons, and would tally a record 21,468,121 fans in 2011-12.
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The Associated Press contributed to this report