Lingering NHL lockout hurting pubs, sporting goods retailers

NANAIMO – Hockey fans growing disillusioned, games cancelled through Dec. 30.

No NHL hockey?

Big problem, especially if you own a pub or sporting goods store that relies on National Hockey League games to keep the beer and burgers flowing and the merchandise moving off the shelves. Even though Nanaimo doesn’t have an NHL team, fans here bleed the blue and green of the Vancouver Canucks, but with no end in sight to the lockout, that hockey devotion is turning to apathy.

“The hockey fans that come in I’ve talked to, there seems to be a lot more who just don’t care on either side, they’re not even taking a side anymore, they’re just saying the whole thing is ridiculous,” said Madden Gorham, manager at Game On Sports at Woodgrove Centre. “So they’re not buying jerseys, hats, that sort of thing which, of course, is definitely hurting our bottom line.”

Instead, the retailer has been having success with pro sports that are in action, mostly National Football League paraphernalia, but it still doesn’t make up for the hockey losses.

“NHL items are what we move most this time of year,” said Gorham. “I couldn’t tell you how much we’re down exactly, we let head office worry about that, but it’s noticeable.”

So is the drop in beer and food sales at Harewood Arms Pub in south Nanaimo. Normally on game nights, the place is buzzing with hockey fans taking in the game and hoping to win Canucks jerseys or tickets.

This season? Empty chairs.

Bill Dempsey, owner of the Harewood Arms, said the NHL lockout is just one more challenge pub owners have had to deal with in the last couple of years.

“The economy, the drinking and driving laws, the hockey, it piles up and you start to ask yourself ‘why am I doing this?’” said Dempsey. “I could be living in Thailand for next to nothing and not worrying about any of this stuff.”

The absence of pro hockey hurts, he said, but deeper issues like worker migration to Alberta hurts more and for longer.

“There is a major problem with the economy here,” said Dempsey. “Everybody knows three or four people that have left the province because there is no work here, and these construction guys are your hockey fans. I’ve been here for 21 years and the last couple of years have been the worst, despite what [B.C. Premier Christy Clark] will tell you. They seem to think everything is just rosy but it’s not.”

All regular season games have been cancelled through Dec. 30. For Gorham, all he can do is hope that the lockout ends and that our winter heroes return to scoring goals soon.

“It’s taking its toll,” said Gorham. “We keep watching every day for progress (in the negotiations) and nothing positive seems to be coming out of it.”