VANCOUVER -- Skates on the ice mean cash in hand for local business owners who expect customers to flood downtown for all 24 Vancouver Canucks home games in a shortened NHL season that starts Saturday at Rogers Arena against the Anaheim Ducks.
Bar owners and hotel operators are among those eagerly anticipating the return of professional hockey after a 113-day lockout.
“The impact for our location is massive,” said Tim Murphy, manager of the Shark Club bar and grill, located on West Georgia Street one block from Rogers Arena.
Murphy said sales were down 20 per cent in October as a result of the lockout. November and December were only slightly better.
“We’re lucky we have some good core customers, but at the same time we need the volume that the hockey provides to really be a viable business. And we welcome it back with open arms,” he said.
On Granville Street, bar and hotel operators also saw the return of hockey as a major boon.
“We’re pretty psyched,” said Ron Orr, chief financial officer of the Granville Entertainment Group, which owns The Roxy, Doolin’s pub, The Cellar nightclub and the downtown Comfort Inn. “It’s good for the staff, it’s good for morale and we believe that ultimately it’s going to be very good for business.”
Orr pointed to the Roxy’s reputation as a post-game party magnet for both Canucks and visiting players. “Clearly without hockey we don’t get that crowd.”
Orr’s relief at hockey’s return isn’t just about the bottom line. “When you look at the psychology of hockey, it really is a bond between people,” he said. “It’s just a lot of excitement when everyone’s wearing the jerseys and rooting for the team.”
The Comfort Inn should see a spike in demand too, he added. A package deal offering 20 Canucks tickets along with hotel accommodations and restaurant discounts has already yielded benefits: “We just sold out one game to a group from Vancouver Island. That’s upwards of 10 rooms that we sell that night because of hockey.”
The lockout’s repercussions even reached the luxury suites of the Four Seasons Hotel at West Georgia and Howe streets, where visiting hockey teams regularly stay.
“You miss the rooms business,” said marketing director Kostas Christopoulos, referring to the hotel rooms left vacant after the NHL labour dispute. He said business suffered in the absence of hockey fans from the Vancouver Island, the Interior and Edmonton and Calgary, who also shell out money at the hotel’s bar and restaurant, which “always on a game day sees a big spike in business.”
On top of part-time pub staff, cab drivers and merchandisers, the tourism industry especially is relieved the dry spell is ending. It’s estimated by the Vancouver Downtown Business Improvement Association that a home game brings $1 million to Vancouver and the cancellation of an entire season could cost the city $40 million.
“Especially in what we call the leaner months of January and February, when things slow down in terms of retail and people being willing to open up their wallets after (the) holiday season, this is going to be good news for the downtown economy and for those particular businesses,” said association executive director Charles Gauthier.
Gauthier himself recently purchased a six-game ticket package for him and his wife.
“I think it’s going to rebound really well. I think people are looking forward to watching professional hockey again in this city and I think the fans will respond positively.”
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Vancouver Shark Club general manager Tim Murphy says the return of professional hockey will make a big difference to the Georgia Street operation. He said business was down substantially during the NHL lockout.
Photograph by: Ian Lindsay Ian Lindsay, Vancouver Sun