Baseball season is now in full swing, and it’s business as usual at Koch Sporting Goods Downtown — if the 7-foot mannequin standing guard outside, outfitted in a stark white No. 14 jersey, is any indication.
Cincinnati Reds gear is fully stocked — T-shirts, hats, jerseys and the like. Foot traffic is steady, and buyers seem to be riding that early April optimism, even for a team that’s projected to lose 100 games - or more - this season.
Gone are fan favorites like Todd Frazier and Aroldis Chapman. The buzz from last year’s All-Star Game has fizzled. So that should translate to smaller crowds at Great American Ball Park and, in turn, fewer dollars spent at bars and restaurants before and after games.
If that’s got Downtown businesses down, they’re not saying. Is it possible the Reds are recession-proof?
“People are always going to buy Reds stuff,” said Eric Koch, who works at the namesake West Fourth Street retailer. “We’ve had just as much buildup with Opening Day as we ever have. We were maybe a little bit surprised by that, since they did trade away so many players, but I don’t think that’s dampened anybody’s mood. I’m trying to find the right cliché, but they’re almost recession-proof. Nothing really seems to affect them.”
Koch said the store is still stocking the same amount of merchandise for 2016 — they went heavy last year in anticipation of the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, which swept through town in July and brought a big business boost. But it’s not all about retail. Koch also provides equipment and uniforms to the Reds, Cincinnati Bengals, as well as many local college, high-school and youth-sports teams, even though sales there still make up roughly 30 percent of the business.
“We don’t really do numeric projections, but I don’t think we’ll drop off one bit,” Koch said. “It’s a long season with a lot of games. I would say the one thing we don’t have any clue about is jerseys. We’ve ordered less but hope to sell a lot of blank jerseys, or we can customize them in-house. If anything, we might even see an uptick in personalization jersey sales because, after all, whose name are you going to put (on the back)? They might be on the trading block.”
Other business owners point to the anchor that is Great American Ball Park itself. There’s enough other extras to bring people downtown between Reds self-promotions like Fireworks Fridays, Star Wars weekend (May 6-8) and Pete Rose’s induction into his hometown Hall of Fame (June 24-26); as well as newcomers’ taking residence in mid-March at the Radius Apartments at The Banks and the increasing draw of Smale Riverfront Park, overall game attendance seems almost secondary.
“Pretty much everything in and around the ballpark is hopping,” said Joe Feldkamp, director, Riverfront Stadia and Parking, The Banks Public Partnership.
The Banks Public Partnership operates between 6,000–6,500 parking spaces, he said, between various surface lots and garages. That number has fluctuated based on various construction projects, but Feldkamp said revenues have held steady from 2014 to 2015. He expects this year to be about the same.
“Overall, as far as parking goes, we’re looking for a neutral,” Feldkamp said. “It’s hard to say what effect the Reds are going to have because there’s too many other irons in the fire that will stir the pot and bring people to the riverfront.”
Feldkamp said Carol Ann’s Carousel and Anderson Pavilion, a new event space that’s recently come online, will bring additional visitors for events like parties and weddings. General Electric Co.’s new office building could open in September. He also cited the opening of Radius.
“We think all that will more than offset any drop in attendance that we might experience,” he said. “From our perspective, it’s all great. We feel like we’re vibrant; things are happening.”
Kris Keefe, manager and partner at Jefferson Social, a Mexican street food bar and grill that opened at The Banks in 2013, agrees. He said they typically staff up at the start of a Reds season. They’re also bolstering their crews on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, when park visitation hits its peak.
He’s not expecting any ill will from a potential 100-loss season. Business in general has improved every year; expectations today are much the same.
“We’re being optimistic and hoping they do well, but it shouldn’t affect us that big either way,” he said. “Obviously it’s much better if the Reds go to the playoffs and win a World Series, but even if that doesn’t happen there will still be a lot of people down here.
“Last year, the Reds weren’t even close to contention, but business was still really good. That four or five days during the All-Star Game were the busiest we’ve been by far. Obviously not having the All-Star Game (this season) is a big deal, but we can’t have that every year. Still, we think it’s going to be fine.
“I think a lot of people just want to go to the games to go to the games,” he added, “and the Reds have been really awesome about helping bring the crowds down, too.”
Whether that will translate outside the ballpark’s immediate radius — like to Newport on the Levee and Over-the-Rhine — is anyone’s guess, he added. WCPO reached out to the Levee’s Brothers Bar & Grill, but management at the sports-themed restaurant did not return calls for comment.
“I will say this, because we used to be in Newport, I feel like we noticed it a lot more there than we do at The Banks,” Keefe said. “The outlying areas, it might affect them a little bit more.”
Follow Liz Engel on Twitter: @_LizEngel