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Latrobe hopes Steelers return for training

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By Cody Francis
Friday, March 25, 2011

Every summer, as many as 20,000 Steelers fans descend on Latrobe for a few weekends, tripling the city's population, to sit on the grass overlooking Rooney Field and watch the players run practice drills and perhaps snag an autograph.

It's an annual tradition that gets Latrobe Area Chamber of Commerce President Andy Stofan excited, particularly when training camp follows a Super Bowl appearance.

"It would have been nice if the Steelers won the Super Bowl, but when they at least make it there, that reflects very well on training camp attendance," Stofan said.

But the NFL lockout has the region surrounding the team's summer home -- St. Vincent College in Unity -- hoping there is a training camp in August, he said.

"It's obviously going to have an impact if all of a sudden this year there is no training camp," Stofan said. "We are all just ... keeping an eye on the NFL."

John Huemme, owner of Sharky's Cafe, a restaurant and bar along Route 30 in Unity, said he has been anxiously watching for updates on the league's labor negotiations, wondering if the usual sea of black and gold will invade his restaurant this summer.

"We're all kind of worried," Huemme said of local business owners. "It would be a drastic change if we didn't have (training camp)."

Huemme said his restaurant doubles up on staff and inventory during the three-week period in late July and early August that the Steelers are in town, when business easily doubles.

"It's kind of like our 'Christmas in July,'" he said. "Every hotel in the area is 100 percent booked. It's just the biggest couple of weeks of the year.

"We see the same people come in every year from Florida, Arizona -- all coming because the Steelers are in town," he said.

Last week, the Chamber of Commerce was awarded a $10,000 Westmoreland County Tourism Grant to capitalize on the influx of fans to advertise other destinations in the area. The Chamber plans to develop a website aimed at training camp visitors, Stofan said.

A St. Vincent College spokesman declined comment.

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