Local Businesses Hope The MLB All-Star Game Will Kick Start Their Bottom Lines After The Pandemic

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Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Crews work on a mural across Blake Street from Coors Field on Tuesday, July 6, 2021, in advance of the MLB All Star Game next week.

Denver’s bars and restaurants are girding for crowds to start descending on the city for Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game, the city’s first large-scale event since the pandemic shut everything down more than a year ago.

It’s not just businesses in the immediate vicinity of Coors Field that are preparing for crowds. Take the Block Distilling Company. The distillery makes its own alcohol and syrups in Denver’s RiNo neighborhood. It’s about a 20-minute walk from the stadium.

Last year, the staff was working with local brewers to make hand sanitizer while serving drinks to go and concentrating on its wholesale business. With things reopening up across the city and state, however, lately, the staff has been experimenting with mixing the perfect bright purple cocktail to honor the hometown team — to serve people at the bar.

“Purple cabbage dyes stuff really well, and if you are careful with how you get the color you don’t actually get any real perceivable flavor from the cabbage,” said Kraig Weaver, one of the distillery's owners.

Mix it with some gin, a little tonic and blueberry, and you get the “No Harm, No Foul” special, he explained.  

The distillery sits on a trendy block across the street from Odell's Brewing’s Five Points Brewhouse and Shake Shack. Block is not a sports bar, but Weaver thinks they’ll attract visitors in town for the game.

“Fingers crossed … hopefully all the travelers are wanting to experience parts of Denver besides just the stadium,” Weaver said.

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Michael Coriano of Denver hangs MLB All-Star banners on light posts outside Coors Field on Tuesday, July 6, 2021, in advance of the MLB All-Star Game next week.

State and city officials are optimistic the game will draw a big crowd — and plenty of cash — with Coors Field back at full capacity crowds as of last month. Still, it’s difficult to pin down a precise estimate of how much revenue the game will generate. When Major League Baseball announced the move to Coors Field in April, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and Gov. Jared Polis said the economic impact could be anywhere from $100 million to $190 million.

During the intervening months, a majority of the city’s residents ages 18 and over got vaccinated and city officials fully lifted pandemic restrictions. But there haven’t been any updates on what the city expects to gain — and spend — during the All-Star Game.

“Whether or not they’ve sold a lot of tickets to people outside of Denver is the real factor as to whether there’s going to be a whole lot of economic impact,” said Mac Clouse, a professor of finance at DU’s Daniels College of Business. 

It’s out-of-towners that splurge on hotels and upscale dinners, he said, and that cohort is especially difficult to model this year. And there’s another unknown: The All-Star Game means spending time in large crowds. While people are traveling again, some might not be ready for that, he said. 

“There are some people who are reluctant to get into crowds and other people who are incredibly excited about getting into crowds, so it's tough to forecast,” Clouse said.

There’s no hard data available yet on how many people are actually going to descend on Denver for the festivities, but a quick scan of downtown hotel inventory shows that many are sold out in the days leading up to the game. 

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Jim Pittenger, who owns Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs in his Denver’s LoDo neighborhood, on July 7, 2021

Even if the economic impact is hard to predict, people are definitely excited. Jim Pittenger owns Biker Jim’s, a gourmet hot dog place just a few blocks from Coors Field. In LoDo, many businesses have gotten permission to extend their liquor licenses to the sidewalk to serve passersby.

“We’re planning on it being … a cross between St. Patrick's Day, Oktoberfest, the fourth of July, Opening Day – all kind of getting shoehorned into a long weekend, or a long week,” he said.

Just like any big party, there’s the potential for last-minute hiccups. One of the big questions looming over the event is staffing.  Business owners everywhere are struggling to hire enough workers to keep up with demand as the economy reopens. That’s especially true in the hospitality business.

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The grill at Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs in Denver’s LoDo neighborhood, on July 7, 2021

“I’m pushing and trying to get as many people in here and trained up as possible,” said Erik Riggs, owner of Freshcraft, a casual restaurant and bar specializing in craft beers about a 10-minute walk from Coors Field.

Riggs said he’s not usually mobbed when the Rockies play, but he is expecting to see a lot more business because of the All-Star Game. His biggest concern, for now, is that he doesn’t have enough employees.

If it gets too busy — and he doesn’t have sufficient staff —  Riggs says he’ll have to limit seating and start a waitlist. That’s not ideal for a business.

“It’s a double-edged sword in that sense,” he said.

Mostly, though, the extra foot traffic will be a welcome change for downtown bars and restaurants. Office workers haven’t really returned to their work downtown in large numbers and, as Riggs points out, aside from getting the All-Star Game, it’s been a disappointing year for the local sports scene.

“I think it means a lot to everyone in the sense that it kind of fills in some of those gaps,” Riggs said.