Pirates' success unlocking treasure chest for vendors

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Vendors and store owners near PNC Park have an extra reason to revel in the Pirates' winning ways this season: The team's success on the field is also leading to success at the cash register.

This week's series against the Chicago Cubs brought out 94,018 people, a record for a three-game weekday series at the park, according to Brian Warecki, senior director of communications for the Pirates. The 33,935 people at Wednesday's game, which the Pirates won, 3-2, also set a record for the highest attendance at a 12:35 p.m. start.

These massive crowds and a winning team have been an economic boon to vendors, restaurants and stores on both sides of the river.

Cafe Milano on Sixth Street has sold slices of pizza on the sidewalk on game days for years, but it says sales are up about 60 percent this year from last year.

"It used to be there was only a crowd if they were giving something away," said cook John Brucker. "Like Monday nights we wouldn't even have done it, but now that they're winning, we are."

The Pittsburgh News convenience store a couple doors down is also capitalizing on the swelling crowds pouring over the Roberto Clemente Bridge after games. It usually closes at 7 p.m., but on game days this year it has started staying open until 11 p.m. selling water and Pirates gear on the sidewalk.

"We just did it for the Steelers last year, but this year we're doing it for the Pirates," said Akshay Mankad, whose family owns the store. He said business is up 25 percent on game days from last year and he has been so impressed by the size of the crowds streaming by that he has started taking photos of them on his phone.

Across the river, Pirates merchandise is also selling far more than in past years, said Michael Romano, a manager at The Pittsburgh Fan, a store on Federal Street next to PNC Park. He estimated that he was selling 300 percent more Pirates gear than in previous seasons.

"It's the first time ever that Pirates are the priority," Mr. Romano said. "Last year, we saw a taste of what it could be like. Now, it seems more permanent as long as they don't fall apart."

Mr. Romano said that in previous seasons he would start selling Steelers merchandise in late summer as training camp started up. But for now, he'll be keeping Pirates jerseys front and center.

"It's definitely better when they're winning," said Frank Kandcer, who has been selling cold waters, peanuts and other ballpark staples to passing crowds for 10 years. He said the enthusiasm of fans coming over the bridge after games this season has given his business a 20 percent boost in sales.

"When they lose, [fans] act like it's your fault they lost," Mr. Kandcer said.

At Atria's, a restaurant on the outer wall of PNC Park along Federal Street, Jill Murtha, a manager, said many people are eating earlier than in past seasons to be sure they catch the first pitch from their seats. More customers are also hiring the restaurant to cater pre-game tailgates in the surrounding parking lots, she said.

"They're not coming just for fireworks nights and bobblehead nights anymore," Ms. Murtha added.

More fans from out of town are also coming to watch the Pirates. The Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel just across the Roberto Clemente Bridge from the park says it has seen a 20 percent increase in baseball fans staying there on the weekends, according to Kristina Bush, the hotel's director of sales and marketing. The Braddock's Streetside bar in the hotel is also about 25 percent more crowded on game days.

The Pirates' recent wins have had one negative effect on the area: increased traffic. Pittsburgh police Lt. Michael Piasecki said more police have had to respond for traffic control because of higher pre-game crowd estimates. While the larger numbers have not caused major problems, police have had to redirect traffic around full lots and clogged streets more often.

"It's a little difficult because you're forcing the drivers to do something they're not accustomed to doing," Lt. Piasecki said.

Mr. Mankad, of the Pittsburgh News convenience store, wants the crowds to keep coming, however.

"We'd like to see some playoff games, too," he said.


Peter Sullivan: psullivan@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1939. Marcus Schwarz: mschwarz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1964. First Published July 26, 2012 4:00 AM


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