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With season on ice, businesses hope sales don't freeze too

By SHERRI DAY
Published February 16, 2005


TAMPA - If Jack Newkirk could script the ending for the National Hockey League's standoff with its players, it would read like a businessman's bedtime story.

The season would begin in two weeks. Fans would flood downtown. And Newkirk, the president of Newk's Cafe, across from the St. Pete Times Forum, would have spent Wednesday lining up part-time employees.

Instead, he gathered near a television with about 20 patrons and workers to await word of the season's fate.

He knew it was bad news the moment he saw the league commissioner's facial expression.

"The reality that it's not going to happen, it's just disappointing," Newkirk said. "I really felt that even if we had an abbreviated season that would help."

Still, Newkirk said his 10-year-old business was stable and would not suffer a significant loss. He has been preparing for a canceled season for months, ordering fewer supplies and keeping a trimmed staff.

"It looks like it's going to be a long summer," Newkirk said. "But we'll be okay."

Across the street at Rivals, the outlook was not so rosy.

"We're all depressed here," said Josh Soult, assistant manager of the restaurant and bar that opened five months ago in the old Beef O'Bradys. "It's our main source of money here, and we're all hockey fans."

Soult said Rivals owners planned to increase marketing efforts to attract a crowd sans the sport.

For some business owners near the Times Forum, contingency plans have been in full swing since October, when the hockey season was scheduled to officially begin.

T.D. Dunn, a manager at Stumps Supper Club in Channelside, has turned to all-you-can-eat nights.

"This Friday is peel and eat shrimp," Dunn said. "That's going over pretty good. We're trying to do some specials to try and make up for the business."

Dunn estimates that Stumps recorded profits 25 percent above normal when the Tampa Bay Lightning were in town.

To make up for lost tips, Hooters server Janeal Borge has her own strategy: smile, chat and provide extra-friendly service.

"I'm bummed out," said Borge, 23. "I'm missing out. We'd bank on hockey nights, always."

At Ciara's, an accessories store in Channelside, sales women bemoaned potential losses. The store benefited from foot traffic from nearby restaurants and bars, which attracted hockey fans.

"They'd go next door and always look in our windows and come here," said saleswoman Betty DeBoe. "It's really going to take a lot of business away from here."

DeBoe predicts scant sales of hockey-related jewelry this year.

Hooters waitress Kasey Mitchell also mourned the loss of the season. She said she got a job in the chain's Channelside location because of the big tips she could potentially earn during hockey season.

But Mitchell, a 29-year-old community college student and single mother, said all is far from lost.

"We have Trump's building coming up," she said. "We have The Donald. I hope he comes in here, and I hope he eats at Hooters."

-- Sherri Day can be reached at 813-226-3405 or sday@sptimes.com

[Last modified February 16, 2005, 18:34:01]


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