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'Blue October' Hurts Bottom Line For Some Kansas City Small Businesses

Kyle Palmer

Few will argue against the notion that the Royals' recent run to a World Series title has been a good thing for Kansas City. The New York Times is lauding the metro's "resurgence" and newfound "swagger." Deadspin is fawningover the record-breaking turnout at Tuesday's victory parade. 

Likewise, city officials project the economic impact of this year's World Series win will far outstrip even last October, when it was estimated the Fall Classic brought in well more than $50 million to the city. 

But some local entrepreneurs admit, even as they bask (like the rest of us) in the afterglow of this week's final spasm of civic joy, that this Blue October was ultimately bad for business. 

"It's actually been quite tough on us," said Laura Norris, owner of Ragazza, a family-run Italian restaurant on Westport Rd. "On game nights, I do about a third of my normal business. And we had game after game. It adds up."

Norris brought in a big-screen TV to her dining room for the playoffs in an attempt to draw in baseball fans. But she says this October will probably end up being Ragazzas's "worst month" in its nearly two years of existence. 

Norris is a proud Royals fan who attended Game 7 of the 1985 World Series. So she says she's felt a tension between being a fan and being an entrepreneur. 

"I'm so excited that we were in the World Series. It's been really fun. But as a business owner you look at your numbers and you're like, 'Oh my gosh, how am I going to survive this one?'"

Yet, the city-wide picture looks much rosier.

VisitKC, the city's conventions and visitors' association, says by most economic measures -- tax receipts, bar and restaurant sales, hotel occupancy, flight bookings in and out of KCI -- this October is projected to be an even more successful one than last year. 

"People want to be out, people want to be social and businesses are doing an excellent job of providing the right space for people to do that," said VisitKC President and CEO Ronnie Burt. 

Burt says the Royals' success is having a compounded impact, raising revenues for local businesses, whose workers then go out and spend their wages at other area shops, bars, and restaurants. 

But Jeremy Lane hasn't seen this. He says this October has been "brutal" for his Homesteader Cafe on the corner of 7th and Walnut downtown. Lane opened this "neighborhood restaurant" with his wife Megan a month ago, just as the Royals were starting their dramatic playoff push. 

"Through the month of October, almost guaranteed, we had about one table a night for the playoffs," he said. 

But famine suddenly turned to feast this Tuesday, when more than half a million fans flooded downtown for the Royals' victory parade. Lane said on that morning, he had at least 100 people come in for a pre-parade brunch-and-Bloody Mary deal. Yet even that sudden boost had its downside. 

"Our first month made it really hard to judge what today [the parade day] was going to be like, so we needed more staff and more product. I know a couple of people left not totally happy," he said. 

Like many small business owners, though, Lane is stubbornly optimistic. 

"My hope is that a lot of people found out about us during the parade and liked our food and will come back. Hopefully, we can get back to regular business."

Both Norris and Lane admit part of their struggles may come from the fact that their restaurants don't cater to a sports crowd. Other businesses had similar fears and have tried to use that to their advantage. 

"Nobody would ever confuse us with a sports bar," said Ryan Davis, the head programmer and creative manager of the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema on Main St. 

He admits business has been slow ("It's been a ghost town in here.") but also says revenues for his theaters this October are up 30 percent over last year because he and his staff tried some different strategies. 

"We did programming that aims for a different audience than one that would be going to watch a Royals game. An all-day horror marathon, we played The Crow on Devil's Night [Oct. 30], and we have been playing anime a lot."

Davis is confident business will pick back up. Being a self-professed "huge" Royals fan, he also says it was a "fair trade" to lose some business but see the Royals win a World Series.

Not all small business owners may be so sanguine, but it's clear those they have been hurting this Blue October are ready for better bottom lines now that the 'Boys in Blue' are off for the winter. 

Kyle Palmer is KCUR's morning newscaster and reporter. You can follow him @kcurkyle. 

Kyle Palmer is the editor of the Shawnee Mission Post, a digital news outlet serving Northeast Johnson County, Kansas. He previously served as KCUR's news director and morning newscaster.
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