Yankee Stadium businesses slump

After a summer of little cheer for Yankee fans, local businesses are paying the price.

Mike Hong of D & J Variety on E. 161st St. says business is hurting.
Mike Hong of D & J Variety on E. 161st St. says business is hurting.

When the team sinks, there is no joy on River Avenue

On a quiet October afternoon, a family walked into a store across the street from Yankee Stadium on River Avenue. The store manager welcomed the family, his only customers at the time, with a big smile and joked, “You can look for free.”

They left without buying anything and the store—filled with Yankee shirts, hats and trinkets—fell silent again.

It was a typical business day near the stadium this fall.

“If the Yankees aren’t here, nobody’s going to be here,” said Yasser Abu Ammar, 40, the manager of the store, Pinstripes Yankee Shop. “I’m a Yankee fan because we live from the Yankees.”

Ammar’s memorabilia store is one of many businesses around the stadium that experienced a sluggish autumn because the Yankees did not make the playoffs. Whether the team succeeds or struggles affects sales not only in the fall, but into the winter too, Ammar said.

This October he took in a few hundred dollars a week, mostly in small-priced items like hats and key chains. During a single playoff game day, he expects a few thousand dollars in profits.

Many businesses around the stadium depend on the foot traffic generated from 81 regular season games, and for some, the playoffs provide a much-needed revenue boost.

“It’s incontestable that they get hurt when the Yankees get knocked out of the playoffs,” Cary Goodman, director of the 161st Street Business Improvement District, said.

Most Yankee-centric businesses are small. Goodman estimates the size of the workforce around the stadium at less than 1,000.

But the baseball playoffs’ economic impact is big. Citywide, a 2011 study by the city’s Economic Development Corporation estimated, hotels, restaurants, vendors and other businesses added $20 million in sales for each World Series game. When a team makes the league championship series, as the Yankees did in 2012, each game generates about $12.6 million in revenue per game citywide, the study said.

Some 50 businesses west of the Grand Concourse rely on Yankee fans for 75 percent of their year-round business, according to Goodman.

Even a few home playoff games can mean thousands in extra revenue for local Bronx businesses, store owners say. This year’s meager fall profits—compared to playoff years—come at a time when businesses near the stadium are looking for ways to attract customers when the Yankees aren’t playing.

But even in the off-season, the Yankees call the tune. Since the new Yankee Stadium opened in 2009, the team has hosted special events, ranging from college football games to concerts to college graduations. Those non-baseball events, especially in the fall and winter, offer local businesses a small boost in profits.

And with the possibility of a professional soccer team—also owned by the Yankees—coming to the area, the neighborhood could become busy in baseball’s off-season.

If the soccer stadium has a roof and can be used year-round, Goodman said, “It could actually have a really metamorphic effect on the neighborhood to see us move away from the 90-day calendar into a whole different sort of worldview.”

At the moment, though, the new stadium and soccer team are only ideas, and the business owners, accustomed to busy Octobers, can only lament the slow sales this year.

“We can’t rely on them always to be in the playoffs,” said Charles Powell, a street vendor. “We’re spoiled in this area. We’re used to them being in the playoffs. When they’re not there, we feel it.”

Mike Hong moved his Yankee paraphernalia to the back of his store, D&J Variety, during the week of this year’s World Series in Boston. He placed winter clothing up front, and said the Pinstripe Bowl, a college football game in December, will be the big event for local businesses until baseball starts again.

Not only was this October hard, but Hong said sales have declined over the last three years.

“When you go all the way to the championship, that totally makes a difference,” he said. “2011, ‘12, ‘13—worse, worse and worse.”

By contrast, Billy’s Tavern, a sports bar, does not depend on the playoffs, said its owner George Manesis, who invested $3.2 million to renovate his large, high-ceiling bar area. He plans to open an outdoor beer garden next season.

Goodman, the BID director, said the businesses around the stadium will always be tied to the Yankees, no matter how many different events, or sports, come to the area.

“All the businesses to the west of the Concourse are umbilically tied to the Yankees,” he said. “They are people who have grown up on the mother’s milk of the Yankees’ success.”