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Steelers

Lockout could hurt eateries in camp towns

| Sunday, June 12, 2011

It could be easier to get a table at Sharky's Cafe in Latrobe this summer if the NFL lockout shuts down Steelers training camp.

Owner John Huemme boasts of Sharky's proximity to the Steelers' preseason training base, less than a mile from St. Vincent College in Latrobe. But he can only watch and wait while the owners and players try to hash out a deal with the 2011 season drawing ever closer.

A cancelled or delayed camp could hurt restaurants and other businesses in Latrobe and Bethlehem in eastern Pennsylvania, where the Philadelphia Eagles train at Lehigh University.

"The entire town is looking forward to training camp," Huemme said Friday. "We're hoping this thing gets squared away ... and we end up having a good camp like we always do."

Discover Lehigh Valley, the visitors bureau for the Bethlehem area, estimates about 20,000 to 25,000 visitors show up for Eagles camp, which typically runs from late July to mid-August.

But the Steelers appear to be a much more popular draw. The Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau, which promotes the Latrobe area, estimates about 15,000 to 20,000 visit St. Vincent each day of camp to catch a glimpse of Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu and teammates. It gets so busy at Sharky's that Huemme said he has to double or sometimes triple staffing and inventory.

According to the Steelers website, the team has held its annual summer training camp at Saint Vincent since 1967, one of the longest-tenured arrangements in the league. Camp is free and open to the public.

Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau spokeswoman Julie Donovan said fans like the access to players that may not be available at other teams' camps. Many families also group a trip to training camp with a visit to a nearby amusement park.

"By no means is the region going to fall apart," Donovan said. "But Steelers training camp is again another attraction that really helps the businesses."

The Eagles have trained at Lehigh since 1996. University athletic director Joe Sterrett told The Morning Call of Allentown last month that the school would prefer to know by mid-June if camp were to be held, but that there was no drop-dead date.

A message left Friday for a Lehigh athletics spokesman was not immediately returned.

Discover Lehigh Valley president Mike Stershic said the potential of no camp shouldn't have a big impact on his region beyond the loss of customers for restaurants.

Both visitors bureaus said they did not have specific dollar amounts on the financial impact of camps on the respective regions.

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