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Businesses, Blackhawks fans feel the pain of NHL lockout

October 29, 2012|By Ryan Smith, @RyanSmithWriter | For RedEye

The only hockey to be found at The Anthem recently was in a coin-operated bubble hockey machine sitting unplayed in the middle of the bar.

That might explain why on a night when the Blackhawks were originally scheduled to face the St. Louis Blues in a game broadcast on television, the Wicker Park sports bar was completely empty except for a table of five in the back.

"This is the slowest night we've had here by far," said Adrianna Gutierrez, a server and manager at The Anthem. "We had every seat in the house full for the Bears the other night, but it's 70 degrees and nice out, and no one is here. It's sad."

Blackhawks devotee Chelsa Peterson, 28, of Andersonville had the same game marked on her calendar. But because of the NHL lockout, she spent her evening looking for a good horror movie to watch.

For many hockey fans and businesses that bank on the Blackhawks, the
2012-2013 NHL season has become something of a House of Horrors.

On Friday, the league slashed up more of its calendar--cancelling games through Nov. 30 as the lockout continued through its 40th day. The NHL had previously deleted games through Oct. 29 and set last Thursday as a deadline to reach a deal on a new collective bargaining agreement and perhaps save the possibility of a full 82-game regular season.

But for now, there is no hockey for at least a month--a thought that is rather frightening to longtime Hawks fan Chris Lee.

"It's just a sheer disappointment for me," said Lee, 29, an accountant who lives in Lakeview. "You only have a few times in your life where you have the possibility of having a sports dynasty and so for them not to be on the ice is crazy. We have a potential first-place contender here, and they're doing nothing. I feel like we're being cheated."

Hawks fan Shibu Howlader agreed that the timing of the strike is terrible for Chicago's franchise and is worried that casual fans might hop off the team's bandwagon.

"There's a hockey revival going on in Chicago, so for this to happen now sucks," said Howlader, 33, of Wicker Park. "I will be there for the team when the sport comes back but I can honestly see some fair-weather fans just saying ‘well, screw this then' and move on to something else."

"It must be strike season in Chicago," Peterson added. "We've seen the teacher's strike, the symphony strike and now this. I understand why they're doing it, but it still sucks."

The lack of hockey has also been a proverbial hip check on the bottom line of some local businesses.

The Clark St. Sports store on West Madison Street across from the United Center said sales have gone down by about 50 percent compared to last year because of the strike.

"It's affected us tremendously. It's like a desert out there," said sales associate Prentice Davis. "To be honest, we need two teams (at the United Center) to help support us. Having only one game a week instead of two or three is huge."

The sports merchandise business recently cleared out most of its Blackhawks goods into four small cubby holes for the time being.

"Right now it's almost like we're just a straight Bulls store," Davis said. "Sometimes hard-core fans come in and ask for Hawks stuff, and I have to apologize and say we don't have it."

Davis also noted that official Bulls jerseys cost about $90 with tax, while Blackhawks jerseys run about $150 with tax.

"It definitely makes a difference," he said.

Business is also down a at official Blackhawks bar The Boundary in Wicker Park, but assistant general manager Dan Schack doesn't expect to get hit hard until later in the season.

"Luckily, it's still early in the season," Schack said. "We usually get good crowds for Blackhawks games, especially with us being so close to the United Center. In a few months, it will affect us way more."

Meanwhile, Lee said the strike is altering his entire schedule. During the fall, he often makes plans around Hawks game because he attends several games a season and watches 75 percent of them on TV.

"Especially since I'm not sure about how good the Bulls are going to be, I was planning on watching just about every Hawks game this season," Lee said. "I'm very pissed about this."

Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp said he's heard a lot of people expressing their frustration about the lockout and can sympathize.

"I've heard from a number of fans, from either Facebook or Twitter or running into people while I'm out in the city. Everyone is fairly supportive of the players, but they want to see hockey back. That's a constant," Sharp said. "Hopefully we can do that for them."

Ryan Smith is a RedEye special contributor.

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