Businesses optimistic over NHL season revival
Businesses are optimistic after the National Hockey League and NHL Players' Association announced the end of the lockout and a 48-game, shortened regular season set to begin Saturday.
Bill Waldsmith, the owner of Pamela's Gifts, Cards and Sports Gear in Irwin, said sports memorabilia makes up about 25 percent of sales at the store. Some fans were looking for Penguins merchandise, but retailers felt the economic effects of the lockout, he said.
“The problem I saw was people were looking for Penguins merchandise, but the wholesalers canceled their orders,” Waldsmith said. “The availability of it was low, even though people were looking for it over Christmas.”
Waldsmith said consumers' wallets tend to be fair-weather, with high sales when Pittsburgh teams are successful, but low during slumps.
“It was tough, especially with the Steelers playing bad, and the Penguins not playing at all,” Waldsmith said. “People don't like to see Pittsburgh sports lose, and with the Penguins out of sight and out of mind, people really weren't coming.”
Since the end of the lockout, Waldsmith said more Penguins fans have been coming to his shop for hockey gear.
Preston Gorman, manager of Café Supreme, said losing the first half of the season hurt the restaurant.
“We usually have a pretty good turnout for the games, but the lockout affected us quite a bit,” Gorman said. “Even certain brands of Canadian beers we sell a lot of during hockey season, like Molson, haven't really been selling well.”
Gorman expects a large crowd during the first game, and the restaurant plans to offer beer and food specials.
“We've been printing posters and banners up, and getting ready for opening day,” Gorman said. “I think we're going to have a great turnout.”
If businesses are excited about the Penguins' first scheduled game against the Philadelphia Flyers, fans are ecstatic.
For Bonnie Langford, of Delmont, if it's associated with the Pittsburgh Penguins — or penguins in general, — Langford probably has it somewhere in her house.
“Every room in my house is Penguins,” Langford said, estimating she has at least 10,000 items in all corners of her home.
Langford has been collecting Penguins/penguin merchandise for 30 years, and has been following the Pittsburgh Penguins just as long — so it is an understatement to say she was a very happy woman when she heard the lockout was ending.
“I was thrilled — what do you think?” she said.
Penn Hills Councilman Gary Underwood has been tearing Pittsburgh hockey fans' tickets for nearly half a century.
His days as a ticket-taker go all the way back to when the Pittsburgh Hornets were playing hockey as part of the International Hockey League.
Underwood said the lockout has affected him financially — although as a multipurpose venue, Consol has hosted a variety of other events that require Underwood's services — as well as businesses near the sports arena.
“It's affected many other people who work in the area: the restaurant people and the hotels around the facility,” Underwood said.
“Really, I thought about the fans. I mean, we suffer in different ways. They suffer because (hockey) is what they purchased the tickets for. They bought the tickets and have supported the team over the years. I've lost count of how many sellout crowds they've had to date, but it really shows how a lot of Pittsburgh people and businesses support the Penguins,” he said.
Even though the Penguins are back, Waldsmith said retailers might continue to struggle with hockey merchandise sales, especially since they sell seasonal sports-related merchandise.
Soon, retailers will be preparing for baseball season, he said.
“I still think it's a little too late for the retailers, because who is going to bring in a lot of inventory for just half the season?” Waldsmith asked. “The problem is, if we don't sell it, nobody is going to want to have it sitting on the shelves all summer long.”
Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Brad Pedersen is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com.