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On Hockey Nights, a Center of Inactivity

Some of the hardest hit by the lockout are the arena's part-time employees, who are paid by the event to take tickets, flip hamburgers and escort people to their seats. Canceled hockey games can cost a part-timer $75 a game, about $200 every two weeks or up to $3,200 if the season is canceled.

"It hurts my pockets real bad because when there's no hockey, there's no work," said Lisa Love, 38, who earns around $10 an hour for five to six hours each game night as a maintenance worker at MCI Center. Love, who has three children she helps support, said she took another job as a fork-lift operator at the D.C. Convention Center to make up for the few thousand dollars she will lose if the hockey season is cancelled.


Kurt Kehl, Caps' director of communications, points out team banners while standing on floor where the rink would be. (Lucian Perkins -- The Washington Post)

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"Financially, we miss the games," said Ursula Ferguson, who works as an usher at Capitals and Wizards games and works full-time for the District government. "I'm not going to say it's a hardship, but the money is definitely missed. It is inconvenient to some more than others."

John Cobb, 48, who earns $10 an hour as a part-time janitor at the Acela Club restaurant at MCI Center's west end, is feeling the pinch as well. Cobb has a steady day job as a janitor. But, he added, the lockout "definitely hurts the people who work here part-time. Normally, you have five events a week. Now we just have one or two. The hockey players have big contracts, so it's not hurting them as much. We're getting hurt real bad."

Several restaurants and businesses said the full effect from the hockey blackout won't be felt until January, when the NHL and NBA seasons traditionally hit their stride. But the District ChopHouse and Brewery isn't waiting. The Gallery Place hot spot has laid off a third of its bar staff -- three out of nine people -- because of the loss of its hockey crowd, even though overall business has increased, in part because the surrounding area continues to boom.

"We are down dramatically in our alcohol sales because we are losing 40-plus dates of hockey nights," said David Greenberg, senior managing partner of the restaurant. "On hockey nights, 40 percent of our business is alcohol sales. Most other nights, it's 25 percent. It's a huge difference."

The story is similar at Hooters, two blocks up 7th Street. "We're okay but we've noticed a decline in sales," said Kevin Spence, the restaurant's manager. "We're taking some hit."

Williams said it's too early to judge whether the Wizards -- who are off to a 6-4 start -- are attracting some would-be hockey fans, but even if they do he expected the amount would be minimal. Local businesses say that while hockey and basketball generally attract different fans, their spending patterns at bars and restaurants are roughly the same.

It's hard to put a dollar figure on the effect of hockey's lockout on local businesses. But national consultants who have studied the economic effects of sports facilities said that the money that would normally be spent at MCI Center and the businesses that surround it is instead being spent somewhere else, such as in Montgomery, Fairfax or Prince George's counties, where fans are staying home instead of going downtown.

"The effect of the hockey lockout is to redistribute economic activity away from the MCI Center and to other parts of the community, and that can hurt Washington, D.C., quite a bit," said Mark Rosentraub, dean of the Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University and a specialist on the economics of sports and urban development. "The recreation activity, whether it's buying a pizza or going to a movie, stays in the suburban areas if people don't go downtown to watch hockey."

Rosentraub estimated that the effect of 15,000 fans per game on the local businesses may be in the tens of thousands of dollars, depending on how many of those fans patronize the restaurants before or after the game.

A lot of the impact of the loss of hockey has been offset by the $2 billion retail, office and residential boom that the five-block business district where MCI Center is located has undergone over the last eight years, including the construction of the new D.C. Convention Center and the recently opened Gallery Place complex, with its 14-screen multiplex, 192 condominiums and lineup of retail stores and restaurants.

Developer Herb Miller said the area can weather the short-term effects of the lockout, but the long-term presence of the hockey team is crucial to the restaurants and shops along the 7th Street corridor.

"This year hockey is not materially affecting the traffic because so much is going on in addition to hockey," Miller said. "But in the long run, it's critical to the area to have the hockey customer."

The staff at Fado Irish Pub, a big before-and-after-the-game hot spot for the hockey crowd, has been pleasantly surprised that it is still getting a crowd on hockey nights. Fado's assistant general manager, Chris Lund, said the convention center two blocks to the north and the movie theater a block to the south have generated enough business to make up for lost hockey fans.

"We were really nervous and thinking of e-mails and promotions before the season started, but business has been pretty good," Lund said, although the percentage of liquor sales is down, just like at the District ChopHouse.

The scramble to replace hockey is the same inside MCI Center, where Modell's Sporting Goods store is struggling to fill the hockey void with sales of NFL merchandise. "Obviously, no one is playing hockey and it hurts," said Modell's executive Mitchell Modell.

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.


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