Chilliwack businesses feel NHL lockout pinch

Chilliwack-area pubs benefit greatly on Vancouver Canuck game nights, and when hockey’s gone, those dollars are gone.

Anger and frustration are growing among hockey fans as the National Hockey League lockout gets close and closer to wiping out an entire season.

They are irritated at a group of owners and players who can’t agree on how split up billions of dollars in revenue. But regardless of how it plays out, the hockey fans will survive, finding something else to occupy their time and money.

For some local businesses, the NHL lockout is more than a mere inconvenience. It means a direct hit to the bottom line.

Chilliwack-area pubs benefit greatly on Vancouver Canuck game nights.

When hockey’s gone, those dollars are gone.

Bob Harms, the owner of Corky’s Irish Pub, is used to seeing his place filled when the Canucks are playing.

“We certainly notice a difference, particularly during the week,” he said. “When hockey’s going, they’re here for the game and a lot of them will stick around and give us our dinner crowd at 9 p.m. People are still coming out to watch alternatives like basketball and soccer, but we notice a difference in the enthusiasm of the place. We haven’t had to lay off staff, but I know most of our customers and our employees would be unhappy to not have a season this year.”

Poma Dhaliwal at the Jolly Miller feels much the same.

He’s just glad he’s not in the downtown Vancouver core, where pubs and restaurants are seeing a massive drop off.

“We’re seeing some ripples in both the pub and the liquor store,” he said. “It’s hockey games that keep people in their seats longer. They have something to eat and maybe a beer. Saturday night hockey is an institution around here. So there’s an affect on us, but the biggest affects are going to be felt by those in the downtown core.”

One person who is getting very tired of NHL lockouts is Rick Lovell at Sports & Stuff in the Chilliwack Mall.

Lovell’s store is packed with NHL merchandise. You name it and he’s probably got it.

But when hockey’s shut down, that stuff doesn’t move.

He took a big hit earlier in the year when the Vancouver Canucks bowed out of the NHL playoffs unexpectedly early.

Now this.

“Most of our NHL merchandise is bought well in advance,” Lovell said. “We bought stuff for Christmas back in February, and we still expect to sell lots this month. But if it doesn’t come back in January, that’s a problem.”

Lovell’s problem is not just that hockey is off the radar.

His problem is that NHL fans are making a conscious decision to not buy NHL merchandise as a way to strike back at the owners and players.

“People are making the choice to not buy the products,” he said. “But that doesn’t hurt the owners and players nearly as much as it hurts small businesses like mine. Everybody who walks through my door asks if the lockout is affecting me. Well, what do you think?”

Lovell went through the same process in 2004, when a lockout wiped out the entire season.

He senses an extra level of bitterness from fans this time around, and hopes the bad feelings don’t linger long once hockey resumes.

“It doesn’t take long, in Canada at least, for the fans to come back,” he said hopefully. “They’re bitter now, but it won’t take long for them to get back into it. With the Canucks, you could have 1,000 people giving up their seats, and have 1,000 people waiting to take them. So I think business will pick up once they get back.”

There is one business in town that isn’t overly upset at the NHL lockout.

With the Canucks sidelined, the Chilliwack Chiefs are the only hockey game in town. Fans that might normally stay on the couch for a Sportsnet, TSN or CBC broadcast are heading to Prospera Centre for live hockey.

Good stuff for a team that already led the country in junior A attendance last year.

“We had three successive games with over 2,700 in average attendance, which tells me that we are attracting new hockey fans,” said Chiefs president Glen Ringdal. “Our average last year was 2,040. And many of those first-timers will be back now that have enjoyed the quality and hard work ethic of BCHL hockey.”

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