The cathedrals are empty. Wrigley. Fenway. Yankee Stadium. PNC Park. Progressive field.
Sure, their lights are on as Major League Baseball tries to squeeze a shortened 60-game season into the midst of a pandemic. But no one is home, apart from a few dozen players running around in masks under the noise of artificial crowd noise in front of a handful of well-positioned cardboard cutouts.
Step outside the gates and the artifice evaporates. Reality begins.
While MLB sprints through two months to provide a small semblance of normalcy to its fan base and much-needed new content to its broadcaster partners, the businesses in the neighborhoods around stadiums are so reliant on thousands working their way struggling through the turnstiles 81 times a year, their future murky at best. According to the ADP Research Institute, companies with fewer than 500 employees, a common threshold for small businesses, have lost more than 5.4 million jobs, or nearly 9%, since February.
They are companies like that that serve as a lifeline in stadiums in the city center.
The bars and restaurants around Wrigleyville on Chicago’s North Side thrived during a World Series drought that lasted a century. Some of them may not make it to the other side of the pandemic. The walk to Progressive Field in Cleveland now resembles a tour of a ghost town, with doors locked and windows boarded up.
We rely on that 40,000 fan pedestrian traffic and seasonal tourism every year to be successful, and sadly we are all witnessing what life is like on the opposite side of that at this point, ”said Cristina McAloon, the director of retail for Wrigleyville Sports. Outside of Fenway Park, parking spaces that cost $ 60 during a Red Sox home game are now available for $ 10. The pop-up village on Jersey Street that is growing organically from April to September has disappeared. Souvenir shops are standing still. The post-game crowd that pour in while singing Sweet Caroline is back home watching TV.
Desperate for help, businesses in the Bronx are even begging for help from the Yankees themselves. A local community leader is organizing a protest before a game on Thursday. He wants the team to provide $ 10 million in aid to stores in the legendary stadium.
While some of those places fighting for survival have been around for decades, Mike Sukitch is just hoping to make it to his freshman year. Sukitch opened the North Shore Tavern across from PNC Park in Pittsburgh in January. He expected a challenge as he returned to the neighborhood where he grew up. He didn’t expect to be closed for the next three months, although he knows he’s doing better than most of the others in the area who are closed for good.
As he talks, Sukitch, like so many of his brethren scattered across the country, tries to sound optimistic. It’s practically a job requirement as so much of what happens outside stadiums depends on what’s happening inside.
At the moment, that’s not much. It’s actually less than that. For many, it’s time to turn to that familiar chorus, a chorus that feels less like a worn-out cliché and instead serves a mantra for survival.
Wait until next year.
BOSTON RED SOX
The coronavirus pandemic has hit all sorts of businesses around Fenway Park – the home of the Red Soxs since 1912 -, including restaurants and shops that closed and reopened for months to discover fewer shoppers were out and about. But for the institutions around the baseball fields of the Major League, the resumption of play has been a special kind of grief: they are happy that the games are back, but they can’t make money without fans.
I’ve never seen anything like it, said Jeff Swartz, manager at The Team Store, a 20,000-square-foot gift shop that’s been open across the street from Fenway Park for 75 years.
It’s never been this empty unless they don’t play, said Swartz, who has worked in the store for 30 years. Things are ending as much as you can imagine. It’s negligible.
Jersey Street in front of the store is usually closed off on game days to create a pedestrian area that gives fans with tickets some extra room to wander around, which is not possible within the century-old baseball field. In addition to food stalls, there may be a marching band, a stilt walker, and someone making balloon animals for children.
This year everything is quiet.
All over Wrigleyville, the quirky neighborhood around Wrigley Field, the old home of the Chicago Cubs companies, counts pennies, seeking help, and dreaming of a return to normal life.
In search of a bridge to a vaccine, some ballpark companies lean on income streams or roads that were previously lower on their priority list. Nisei Lounge sold cardboard cutouts of real and imaginary bargoers mimicking promotion at ballparks across the country. Of course, sticking to the spirit of the eccentric place, among the cardboard patrons saddled to the bar: Charles Comiskey, founder of the crosstown White Sox’s Hall of Fame and a kindergarten photo of a patron.
Easily dropped 80% from a normal baseball season, said Pat Odon, the director of beer and baseball operations for Nisei. But strangely enough, we started making merchandise. You never get hold of a bar to sell T-shirts, but that helps us get where we can survive until there is a vaccine. “
Sluggers has covered batting cages, dueling pianos and games such as Skee-Ball. But it now relies on its kitchen.
You know, instead of it live, you get a crazy vibe, ”said Zach Strauss, who runs Sluggers with his brothers David and Ari after their father, Steve, opened the bar in 1985. Were (mostly) the opposite of social distance take,”
When will the next time be a dancer? Next time when will people feel comfortable sharing a baseball bat or the basketballs in the basketball machine? “Said Zach Strauss. So we have suffered quite a lot.
It’s a sunny Sunday, and there’s a hint of fall in the air this August afternoon as the Indians are about to play their series final against Detroit. But aside from the muffled roar of fake noise being pumped into the baseball field, downtown Cleveland is quiet.
Too quiet. Desolate and almost deserted.
And since mid-March, no band has connected their guitars to the amplifiers on the Wilberts stage.
I can probably hold on for two more months, said Micheal Miller, Wilbert’s 17-year-old owner and resident of Cleveland.
He didn’t get the usual opening day bump of Indians, a pseudo-Cleveland vacation, when the wall-to-wall inside Wilberts and Miller makes enough profit to pay off his insurance and licensing fees for the entire year.
But Miller has managed to keep some of his employees in work, and some government funding has helped.
62-year-old Miller, a father of four, tries to stay positive. At this point it is all he can do.
He’s booked a magic act in a matter of weeks, and it will take some sleight of hand to keep its doors open in the fall if the state of Ohio doesn’t ease some of its COVID-19 mandates. Millers were only allowed to have about 100 customers at half capacity, and he wasn’t even sure that would be safe.
NEW YORK YANKEES
The neighborhood around Yankee Stadium has retained some life during the coronavirus pandemic thanks to the densely populated residential areas in the area, but that has done little for shops and bars that exist specifically to serve the more than 3 million fans who visit the Bronx annually .
Yankee Tavern has been one of the busier businesses, but the outlook is still bleak for the watering hole that has been open since 1927.
What’s going on is devastating, owner Joe Bastone said.
Bastones’s father belonged to a group that bought the bar and restaurant in 1964, and Bastone, then 9 years old, has been working there ever since. It became sole owner 35 years ago.
I’ve seen grandfather after father after son, great-grandson, he said. I’ve seen generations come through here.
Once a watering hole for Yankee greats Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, Yankee Tavern is the oldest drinking establishment in the area. It contains separate bar and restaurant areas that regularly fill up on game days.
Bastone spoke with the AP last month ahead of a Red Sox-Yankees match. He normally serves nearly 2,000 customers with the most historic rivalry in town. On this evening he had been sitting outside under a tent about 20 customers.
The patio seating has proved popular, including the Yankee Stadium staff who duck for lunch, and the Tavern has saved some business through takeout and delivery.
Still, Bastone said he owes more than $ 150,000 in rent, has already burnt out his $ 31,000 in Paycheck Protection Program loans, and is forced to cut his workforce by half to seven.
The saxophone man, the one who plays theme songs from 1970s TV shows for small change as fans come to and from PNC Park along the Roberto Clemente Bridge, has disappeared. So is the line to take selfies next to the statue of Willie Stargells outside the left field entrance to the Pittsburgh Pirates house.
The same goes for Rico Lunardi’s joint Slice on Broadway. He opened his fourth franchise store under the stands in leftfield in 2016. His lease technically expired last year, but the team granted him an extension when they negotiated the terms of a new deal.
When the shutdown started, Lunardi tried to stay open. The store had a street entrance on Federal Street. But the double whammy of no baseball coupled with the decision of many offices in the immediate area to let employees work remotely also meant that lunch time fell.
In mid-June, with no fans allowed to enter PNC Park, attendance at events at nearby Heinz Filed uncertain, and government restrictions on indoor capacity, be it restaurants or office buildings in place indefinitely, Lunardi said it eventually ended. He found landing sites for 13 of the 15 full-time workers at the baseball field site, and wouldn’t rule out a possible return one day.
Had this not been done, I would have signed a lease for an additional 10 years, he said. It was fun. It was exciting to say they were part of it. We have grown a great company there. Losing two sources of income is like pulling the carpet out from under your feet.
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