Quiet now on Sunday afternoons, the concrete doughnut of Robert F. Kennedy Stadium looms just beyond the autumn leaves of a nameless park in Northeast Washington. Two middle-aged men sat at one of the tiny park's two picnic tables yesterday afternoon, enjoying new-found Sunday calm in their neighborhood.
"If the Redskins were playing right now, there'd be cars all up here. All over the place," with no place for people, said Phil Davis, 48, as his eyes surveyed the basketball court-sized rectangle of grass dotted with three willow trees at 20th Street and Constitution Avenue NE.
Thus, the National Football League's day of rest yesterday was also one for Davis, who found his contentment enhanced by Indian summer temperatures in the 70s and all those who stayed away from the stadium.
Yesterday marked the 41st day of the National Football League's strike, and the dispute between players and owners over salaries has had a wide impact on Washington area residents and merchants. As football fans rearrange their time to fill the void, some businesses have gained and some have lost.
Sales of hardware and lawn care items, for instance, are up as many fans apparently have found no other ready excuse to avoid working around the home.
Others have used their new-found leisure time to take drives with the family. The number of motorists along Virginia's Skyline Drive, which is one of the area's focal points for autumn color, is markedly up over last year, when there were football games every Sunday.
Business is also up at a number of area retail stores, where people would normally shop when there is no football.
But business is off at bars. And at television stores. And Metro says it has lost at least $180,400 in subway and bus revenues from the four Sundays during the past six weeks on which there would have been home games, including yesterday's aborted game against Super Bowl champion San Francisco at RFK.
At that little nameless park yesterday, Jack Thomas, 72, also enjoying the absence of cars, simply let the day's easy breezes blow through his thining gray hair as he traded barbs with Davis.
"I never been over there," he said, pointing a crooked finger at the stadium. "I'm retired and don't care about football."
But Ramesh Chittal does, or at least he cares about people watching the game on television. Chittal is rental manager of Erol's Color TV in Springfield -- the Hertz of giant screen television in the Washington area.
"Usually by this time in the season I would have rented giant screen TVs six or seven times for football parties," he said. "But this year, nothing at all. A couple of rentals for movies, but nothing for football. And I can pinpoint the customer. If a Moose lodge rents a big screen on Monday night, they're not going to watch Archie Bunker."
Chittal says it's not just rentals: TV sales are down about 5 percent this fall, though they've generally survived well in a sick economy.
"Normally the football season is good for TV sales," Chittal said. "People get tired of adjusting the vertical hold during a pass play."
And if the NFL strike is driving football fans to drink, they're drinking in private, not in bars.
"It's really killing us," said Jeff Young, general manager of the Hawk and Dove on Capitol Hill. Business was down about 15 percent in general because of the economy, Young said, even before the strike. Now Sunday business overall has slumped 50 percent, he says, and on Monday night, when there were weekly televised NFL games, "the bar is down 60 percent. Now nobody has a reason to come out on Monday."
Just three blocks west of Young, Peter Waldron of Bullfeathers reports that "people used to build their whole day around the home games. They would drive in here early and park and be here when we opened for brunch at 11. They'd eat and have a few drinks, hop the Metro to the game and then come back and have another drink after the game before driving home."
Now, he says, Sunday brunch business is off 40 percent and Sunday bar business is off 60 percent.
In the suburbs things are more dramatic still. Redskin quarterback Joe Theismann's restaurant in Camp Springs used to pack them in on Sundays with hot dogs, popcorn and "four or five TVs." "We tried to make it just like the stadium," said manager Vernon Grandgeorge. Now, he says, things are so bad the restaurant doesn't even open Sunday afternoons.
Mondays, however, may be better since the strike, he said.
"Out here people mostly watch the Monday night game at home because it runs so late," he said. "Now with no game some people are coming out to dinner on Monday night. The bar is off but that's only about 10 percent of our business."
Retailers with stores open on Sundays generally have had higher sales figures than on previous fall Sunday afternoons.
Leonard Kolodny, manager of the retail bureau of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, said that more people are going to stores on the strike Sundays that have either been cool or rainy, while extending their summertime outdoor activities on the strike Sundays that have been sunny and warm.
When they do shop, he said, "people are shopping as a family unit. There's a great deal of unhappiness about the strike. There are a lot of people like myself who get the football doldrums," he said.
"We all miss something," he said. "This is a big football area."
And don't Metro spokesmen know that.
On a typical fall Sunday on which the Redskins are playing at RFK Stadium, football fans make about 40,000 trips to and from the stadium on the subway system, according to Metro spokeswoman Marilyn Dicus.
That accounts for $26,000 in lost revenue each game day, she said.
In addition, Metro collects another $10,600 from bus charters carrying fans to the games and $8,500 from fans traveling on Metrobuses from outlying parking lots. An undetermined amount of revenue is lost from those fans who take buses to the stadium on normal Metro routes that are not set up especially for Redskin home games.
Besides turning away from taking a Metro to the stadium, it appears that more and more football fans have altogether turned from end sweeps to merely sweeping the leaves off the old front porch, or making last ditch home repairs and doing a little yard work while weather permits.
Clark McClellan, treasurer of Hechinger, says Sunday sales at the store for do-it-yourselfers have been "very strong" since the strike. Usually, he said, sales plunge during Redskin games. "We keep tabs hour by hour."
"The thing is," said Peter Waldron of Bullfeathers, "people are getting outside, taking walks in the park, finding other diversions. They're getting free of the tube. They're visiting the Skyline Drive."
Rangers at Shenandoah National Park report visitation in the park in October rose by more than 22,000 cars or nearly 33 percent over last year. Since attendance varies from year to year they can't be sure that's all due to the strike. But they note that general visitation in the park has been down nearly all year, probably due to the economy. Then came the strike.
The figures for last weekend appear particularly convincing. Last year on the fourth weekend in October as the Redskins were meeting the New England Patriots, the rangers logged 8,689 cars onto the Skyline Drive. A week ago yesterday, with no pigskins flying, the total was 23,926. And it was raining.
Washington Post Staff Writer Kenneth Bredemeier also contributed to this story.