Local businesses gear up for the big game

Local stores, restaurants look to capitalize on Seahawks' Super Bowl berth

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter

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It's almost here. And this Sunday's Super Bowl match-up between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos has Clark County businesses scrambling for field position with displays of beer and Skittles, extra seating and all things team blue and green.

"Whatever we get in is selling out very quickly," said Ron Bichler, store manager of the Battle Ground Albertsons.

The store has put all of its party essentials — chips, soda and chicken wing bar — front and center. It also is selling Seahawk-emblazoned hoodies and pullovers, 12th-man socks and team caps and banners.

This year's Super Bowl-related sales could be bigger than ever for local businesses. Their challenge, some merchants say, is to capitalize on the short, two-week window of time for sales between conference playoffs and the big game.

A study commissioned by the National Retail Federation estimates Super Bowl fans will spend $12.3 billion on everything from food to decorations, including some who will take the party to a restaurant or bar. This year, it's the Washington businesses' turn to take a larger share of the spending.

"It will be a great income boost for the entire state," said Michael Schnidrig, co-owner of the Main Event Sports Grill in downtown Vancouver.

Schnidrig anticipates that groups of the venue's Super Bowl patrons will take turns buying rounds of appetizers and drinks.

"You don't see a lot of entrees going out on a big game day like this," said Schnidrig, who expects the local fan base to generate packed houses at both the Main Event's downtown venue and its east Vancouver location.

His hunch is based on head counts at the venues during Seattle's regular season. As the team racked up wins, the Seahawks' game days attracted new fans and re-energized old ones.

The team, owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, posted a 13-3 regular season record, best in the National Football Conference, then eliminated the New Orleans Saints and the San Francisco 49ers to win the conference title and a berth in the Super Bowl.

Schnidrig expects Super Bowl sales will be double what sales would have been if the Seahawks weren't playing.

"People will just keep ordering waves of food on a game day like this," he said. "People will stay throughout the game."

Keeping people at your venue for a long time is one of the key ways sports bars capture revenue, said Jon Haslam, general manager of Big Al's, a Vancouver bowling and sports bar venue. Haslam said his staff will try to make sure people are having fun and keep bringing them in.

"We're expecting 455 people in our sports bar" on game day, he said of the venue, which normally seats about 371 people.

Big Al's will add 15 extra tables on Super Bowl Sunday for additional fans who are sure to generate more food and drink sales. Some will likely spend money in the Big Al's arcade or to bowl on its state-of-the-art lanes, he said.

But, for those non-food-selling merchants who depend on pre-Super Bowl sales, the test is deciding how much to order, said Kirk Jabusch, owner of Vancouver-based Athlete's Corner. The four-store retail chain carries a variety of Seahawks shirts, caps and paraphernalia at its locations in east Vancouver, Hazel Dell, Longview and Centralia.

"It's been a long time since we've seen this kind of excitement for a team," Jabusch said. He compared high demand for Seahawks merchandise to demand for 1992 Portland Trailblazers apparel when the team played the Chicago Bulls in the NBA finals.

Jabusch said Athletes Corner stands to benefit from Seahawks merchandise sales, despite the risk of over-ordering.

"It could boost our sales by probably 10 percent, which is a whole lot for us," he said.

As for other businesses trying to capitalize on the Seahawks craze, Vancouver hair stylist Jennifer O'Neal is not only showing team loyalty with the Seahawk blue-and-green highlights in her blonde mane, she's offering the style to clients, although she's had no takers so far.

O'Neal and her co-worker, nail technician Cassie Grosz, are planning pre-Super Bowl services on Saturday that include team-colored hair and nail art that depicts the image of Seattle's team mascot.

It's all just part of the excitement, said O'Neal, who does hair at Serendipity Spa & Salon in east Vancouver. She encourages the shop's other stylists and customers to share her enthusiasm for the NFC champion Seahawks.

"I'm a crazy fan," O'Neal said. "I try to promote the team. I'm trying to inspire it with my hair, too."