Businesses enjoying a surge thanks to winning season by Pirates
By Thomas Olson
Published: Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Celeste McBeth of Baldwin was clothes shopping on the South Side on Tuesday when she found just the right item to wear that evening to celebrate her wedding anniversary: A button-down Pirates shirt.
“My husband (Bob) is taking me to the game tonight” at her request, said McBeth, 53. “We're also going out to dinner by PNC Park before the game.”
Many Pittsburgh businesses are getting a nice bump from the Bucs this year. The team's winning season — the first since 1992 — has spurred higher sales at restaurants and bars, hotels, sports memorabilia stores and transportation companies.
“We're even picking up groups of people in church parking lots” to attend games, said Jamie Campolongo, CEO of Pittsburgh Transportation Group. The Manchester-based company operates Pittsburgh Yellow Cab, plus shuttle and limousine services.
Campolongo said he has had “probably a 100 percent increase” in trips to or from PNC Park over last season. He has noticed a sharp rise in business around game days as opposing teams' fans fly into Pittsburgh International Airport and stay a day or two in town.
Pirates fans have had much to cheer this season. After their home loss against the San Diego Padres on Tuesday night, the Pirates are in second place, one game behind the St. Louis Cardinals, in the NL Central and need to notch six more wins to clinch a playoff berth.
Those wins have been a big draw for fans this season, packing the stadium on game days and providing spillover business for local merchants.
Tom Hemer, sales and marketing director at the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh Downtown, has noticed the impact. In previous seasons, the hotel might attribute 100 to 150 weekend guest stays to a home Pirates game. This season, the number has approached 300 since August, he said.
“When the St. Louis Cardinals came here for a weekday series recently, we noticed a weekday spike in guests,” Hemer said. “I'd never seen that before.”
Restaurants and bars are enjoying the ride, too. During home games, Atria's Restaurant and Tavern outside PNC Park is filling up hours earlier than in prior years, proprietor Jack Hunt said.
“We see people two and three deep at the bar, which we didn't have in the past,” Hunt said. “Our tables have more guests and more turns, which is great for profitability.”
Patrons are so numerous on game days at Mullen's Bar & Grill across the street from the stadium that it has increased its waitstaff to nine from the usual six, assistant manager Jake Keizer said.
Stores that specialize in Pittsburgh pro sports items report sales for many weeks have run double or even triple those of past seasons when the Pirates were hardly contenders for a Major League Baseball title. Several compared fan turnout and patronage to the early 1990s, when the team battled for the pennant.
“It's going great,” said Marcia Feinberg, owner of Mike Feinberg Co. in the Strip District. “I have some customers here right now from Florida who are loading up on Pittsburgh Pirates' Jolly Rogers flags.”
Annie Tinnick, manager of Hometowne Sports, the sports retailer at Station Square where McBeth bought her shirt, said foot traffic from the Pirates is double year-ago levels.
The same score came from Michael Autieri, owner of the Sports Deli, Green Tree. He said he expects Pirates-related sales will surge even more “when they get to the playoffs.”
The Pirates have sold out 20 home games this year, one more than when the acclaimed stadium opened in 2001. For this season through Sunday, attendance totaled about 2.04 million.
“This season will be the second-highest attendance in the history of the club,” Pirates spokesman Brian Warecki said. A record 2.4 million attended in 2001.
Take Mary Lou Einloth of Pennsbury Village, a Pirates fan since grade school in the 1950s. She never attended more than a half-dozen games a season in years past until this season, when she sprang for a 20-game pack of tickets and attended five more beyond that.
“I have to confess, I've gone to more games this year than in the past,” said Einloth, waiting to enter PNC Park on Monday. “Winning helps.”
Thomas Olson is a Trib Total Media staff writer. He can be reached at 412-320-7854 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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