By Eric Morrow for Capital News Service
When the Washington Capitals took the ice for the first time this season on Saturday, the only people cheering louder than the fans were the business owners whose profits were frozen by the NHL lockout.
Bars, sports apparel stores and other local business that depend on Capitals fans to boost sales during the Winter faced significant challenges when the NHL cancelled the first half of the season.
"There was definitely a noticeable drop-off in business when the Capitals were not playing," said Markus Smith, general manager of Rocket Bar located across the street from the Verizon Center, home of the Capitals. "The lockout was horrible."
Smith also said the he expects his bar to be busy for every game of the season, because of the shortened 48-game schedule.
The effects of the hockey lockout were felt far from the Verizon Center, in Baltimore.
“We were sad when they had the lockout because we lost some business for that time period,” said Randy Sherman, the general manager of Slainte Irish Pub in Baltimore. “It’s not uncommon for us to have four or five different games on at the same time, so we’re very excited to have hockey back.”
Before the lockout was resolved, businesses were forced to find new ways to make up for lost revenue without hockey. Slainte showed U.S. National Team hockey games to attract customers. Rocket Bar held an event on Oct. 12, the day the Capitals season was supposed to begin; customers who showed up in Capitals gear received special deals.
Fans are gearing up to watch the Capitals again -- and spend money at local businesses during games.
“A lot of my friends have already gotten their tickets to go to games and a few of my friends have gone and watched their training,” said Capitals fan Ashley David from Pasadena. “I can definitely say that I’ll probably end up going to some of the bars to watch them.”
Also serving as a potential boon for business owners is the expected success for the Capitals this season. Sports Illustrated predicted the Caps to win the Southeast Division and ESPN predicted the team to make the playoffs.
"When any sports team does well in this town it can't hurt business," said Glynn Colwell, manager of The Barking Dog in Bethesda. "If the Caps do well I think just about every bar or restaurant will do better."
Bars and restaurants were not the only businesses that saw sales slow down during the lockout.
"We've kinda not been seeing that many sales this year [of Capitals apparel] because people were waiting on the lockout," said David Cain, the assistant manager of Modell's in Greenbelt. "Now, with the lockout ending and an excitement lingering from last year with the Capitals success at end of the season last year, we're starting to see more customers come in, they're starting to buy goods.”
He said he expects jersey sales to increase should the Capitals start winning.
It’s highly unlikely that another lockout will delay the start of the next NHL season, something local business owners can take solace in. The new collective bargaining agreement is set to last for 10 years.