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Rough year continues for ballpark businesses

Major League BaseballThe COVID-19 pandemic has already depressed business for restaurants and bars across the country, but with the lack of fans at MLB games, the impact at ballpark-area businesses has been even more widespread.

One of the arguments in placing an MLB ballpark — or an MiLB facility, for that matter — in a dense urban area is its anticipated ability to generate associated economic activity. We’ve seen this spinoff development times and time again, whether it’s the Gaslamp Quarter near Petco Park, the North Loop area near Target Field, or the LoDo neighborhood near Coors Field.

But these are not normal times, and these businesses in the ballpark districts are suffering from a double whammy: COVID-19 pandemic restrictions and the lack of fans in the ballpark. Take the area around Yankee Stadium: some sports-merchandise shops are reporting days with no sales, and the legendary Yankee Tavern is doing 5 percent of its normal business. From AP:

Baseball in the Bronx is usually big business for shops and restaurants outside the storied stadium, but with fans stuck at home due to the coronavirus pandemic, those establishments aren’t sure they’ll survive. Desperate for aid, some are even begging for assistance from the Yankees themselves.

“It’s all going to vanish unless somebody helps out,” said Cary Goodman, executive director of the 161st Street Business Improvement District.

Many souvenir shops and sports bars in the area haven’t bothered to reopen since the coronavirus forced their closure in March, and those that have are hardly drawing any customers.

The same tales of woe can be heard from businesses serving every MLB ballpark. Goodman has pitched a $10 million assistance plan for the businesses in his district and is asking the Yankees to contribute. The same situation is felt in Wrigleyville, where area watering holes have gone dry:

Looking for a bridge to survive until there’s a vaccine, some ballpark businesses are leaning on revenue streams or avenues that were previously lower on their priority list. Nisei Lounge sold cardboard cutouts of bar patrons — real and imaginary — mimicking the promotion at ballparks across the country.

“We’re down easily 80% from a regular baseball season,” said Pat Odon, the director of beer and baseball operations for Nisei. “But, weirdly, we’ve started doing merchandise. You never get into owning a bar to sell T-shirts, but that’s helping us get where we can make it till there’s a vaccine.”

Guthrie’s Tavern on Addison Street near Wrigley Field shut down for good in July, citing the pandemic.

As noted, restaurants and bars across the country are suffering. Though a surprising number have survived so far since shutdowns began in March and April, owners can’t hold on indefinitely. It would a sad Opening Day in the Bronx if the Yankee Tavern wasn’t open for business.

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