Businesses optimistic over NHL season revival

| Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Uncle Buckles Bar and Grill was bracing for the perfect storm.

Business typically is slow at the beginning of the year. The Steelers didn't make the playoffs. And hockey season was slipping away because of the NHL lockout.

The skies brightened last week when news broke that the lockout was over and the Penguins would be taking to the ice this month.

Tanya Brown, Uncle Buckles manager, was thrilled for both the business and her employees.

“We are hoping it can increase business especially on the weekdays,” said Brown of Plum. “Hockey is good for business during the week. Folks come out with a couple buddies or groups to watch the game. They commiserate when the Pens lose and celebrate when they win.”

The 48-game shortened season will begin for the Penguins on Saturday with a game against the Philadelphia Flyers at 3 p.m.

Kirk Taylor, owner of TNT Collectibles on Route 286 in Plum, said his business has struggled over the past several months without the Pens.

“Hockey (items) are our strongest seller,” said Taylor of Monroeville.

“The single-player cards with the star players like (Sidney) Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin bring in more kids. Hockey is so popular in this area.”

Taylor said Penguins T-shirts and novelty items also are popular sellers.

Taylor said holiday sales were hurt by the lockout as shoppers turned their attention to other gift ideas for family and friends.

“It is definitely a big relief,” Taylor said. “Hopefully, (the start of the season) will put a boost in our sales.”

Brown expects increased sales when the season gets under way.

“We're going to have beer and food specials for the Pens games,” Brown said.

Brown said Uncle Buckles staff should benefit from hockey fever as well.

“We should be able to give more hours to our employees,” Brown said.

The start of the hockey season also is good news for individuals and businesses in neighboring towns.

Penn Hills Councilman Gary Underwood has been tearing Pittsburgh hockey fans' tickets for nearly half a century.

His days as a ticket-taker go back to when the Pittsburgh Hornets were playing hockey as part of the International Hockey League.

These days, he works at the much more modern Consol Energy Center.

And when it comes to fans, it's hard to beat 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/penguins merchandise for 30 years, and has been following the hockey team just as long — so it is an understatement to say she was a happy woman when she heard the lockout was ending.

“I was thrilled — what do you think?” she said.

Linda Shook, owner of Elegant Nails by Linda on Saltsburg Road in Penn Hills, has been selling Penguins merchandise at her shop for 17 years. She said the lockout took a toll on her business this year.

“It sucked, to be honest,” she said. “And that's putting it pretty mildly.”

Shook said 2012 was a bad year for both the Penguins and Steelers merchandise she carries at her business.

She was in the process of changing out her Steelers gear for more Penguins items, but said the announcement about the NHL season starting has already got things looking up.

“Even in the few days since the lockout has ended, I've gotten a few calls from people asking about Penguins gear,” Shook said.

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.

Karen Zapf is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8753, or Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or

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