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Fans ready as hockey is back

| Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, 9:02 p.m.
Pittsburgh Penguins team captain Sidney Crosby participates in an informal workout at the Iceoplex in Canonsburg, Pa., on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, right around what would have been the beginning of the NHL regular season. A shortened, 48-game season will start Jan. 19. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Sewickley Herald
A rack of Pittsburgh Penguins shirts and hats sits outside of Sewickley Sporting Goods on Beaver Street Monday, Jan. 14, 2013. Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald

For Margie Wakefield, there are no other sports aside from hockey.

Even if the Steelers made it to the playoffs, the Sewickley meter maid said she wouldn't watch them. And she doesn't like baseball.

“It's been boring watching television. You see all of the repeat stuff. I want to see something new. Like hockey,” she said.

Like many diehard National Hockey League fans, she had given up hope that there would be any kind of season this year.

But, after a 113-day lockout, Wakefield and other fans across the city are gearing up for the start of a shortened, 48-game season, which kicks off this Saturday when the Penguins face off against the Flyers in Philadelphia.

“I gotta get my ‘It's A Great Day for Hockey' flag up,” said Wakefield, who plans on watching Saturday's game at home.

Across the region, Bonnie Langford of Delmont was ecstatic when she heard the lockout was ending.

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

Langford has been collecting penguins and Pittsburgh Penguins merchandise for 30 years, and has been following the team just as long.

“Every room in my house is Penguins,” Langford said, estimating she has at least 10,000 items in her home.

Penguins fans are not the only people overjoyed at the prospect of the upcoming season: business owners throughout the region who benefit from the dedication of hockey fans also are celebrating.

Shelley Gerle at Party Ants on Broad Street in Sewickley said sales on NHL-related items haven't picked up steam since the lockout has ended, but she remains hopeful.

“We haven't noticed any difference. At least not yet,” she said, gesturing to a wall filled with Pittsburgh Penguins gift items including accessories, games, stickers, glassware and more.

“People aren't amped up yet,” she said.

Sewickley Sporting Goods on Beaver Street received a shipment of Penguins T-shirts and hats over the weekend, but, like Party Ants, few items have sold so far.

“We held off for so long on ordering Pens things because we were afraid (there wouldn't be a season),” owner Kevin Santelli said.

Linda Shook, owner of Elegant Nails by Linda on Saltsburg Road in Penn Hills has been selling Penguins merchandise for 17 years, and said the lockout “definitely took a toll on me 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 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.

Bill Waldsmith said sports memorabilia makes up about 25 percent of sales at his store, Pamela's Gifts, Cards and Sports Gear in Irwin. Even though some fans were looking for Penguins merchandise, 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 most consumers' spending goes up when Pittsburgh teams are successful, but goes down during slumps. The lockout, coupled with a dismal football season for the Steelers, led to low sales, he said.

“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 (teams) 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 customers are coming to his shop for Penguins gear, but noted 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 and Brad Pedersen also contributed to this report. Kristina Serafini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1405 or kserafini@tribweb.com.

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