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Regardless of who comes out on top in the Battle of Alberta, the local business community stands to be a big winner.
It’s not just the sports bars and obvious watering holes that will benefit from the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers renewing their NHL post-season rivalry for the first time in 31 years.
Pat and Betty, at 1217 – 1st Street S.W., is a new Quebecois Italian bistro that opened its doors on Jan. 1 and they are seeing a surge in traffic before and after games, even though there is not a single television in the 15-table joint.
“You can throw a rock and hit the Saddledome from here,” said James Martin, managing partner. “It’s been real convenient for people to stop in and have a quick bite before the game and fill up so they can go and get rowdy down there.”
The business is critical for a restaurant that rolled the dice during the pandemic to build and open while restrictions still put a major crunch on capacity and hours. To this point, the gamble has paid off and the Flames’ early post-season run has helped extend their early success during a normally slower spring period.
“It’s always nice to come in and see the books are full and you have lots of reservations,” said Martin. “It’s great for the staff, too, and staff retention, just them knowing they work at a restaurant that is going to be busy before and after a game.”
Despite not having the games showing on TVs in the establishment, Martin has been able to sneak down the street to Home and Away to get updates.
Ernie Tsu, president of the Alberta Hospitality Association, said the impact of the playoffs is evident just by walking up and down the Red Mile or on neighbouring streets. He said the patios are packed and there is a renewed energy in the Beltline.
During the first round, he said having the Oilers and Flames playing on opposing nights kept the sector roaring for two solid weeks, with some places being a comfortable gathering spot for Oilers fans to congregate in Calgary. He expects the two teams colliding on the same night will raise the stakes.
“It’s going to be a big uptick on the game days,” said Tsu. “Everybody is excited about the Battle of Alberta. … It’s going to be pretty crazy.”
The hotel sector is also banking on the Battle of Alberta for a boost to vacancy rates in the province’s two biggest cities as fans and media travel back and forth, up and down the QE2.
Sports tourism is an important segment for both rival cities that has been shelved through much of the last two years.
“Hopefully we do see that, especially for our downtown properties,” said Dave Kaiser, president and CEO of the Alberta Hotel and Lodging Association. “They’re the ones who have been hit the hardest and are the slowest to recovery because they usually depend on corporate travel and group events.”
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While hospitality stands to see the biggest bump in numbers, the impact will be felt by most retail sectors as well, from those buying gas for road games or stocking beer fridges and snack platters for watch parties.
“Financial impact will be felt a great deal by a lot of the restaurants and sports bars and frankly anybody who’s down here,” said Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek. “Because it’s been a long time since we had so many people come downtown and coming into our city to celebrate something as big as this.”
With the increase in demand and congregating fans, many of them leaning into the libation of their choice, Annie Dormuth, the Alberta provincial director for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, is calling for some patience. She said 82 per cent of their members in the food and drink service industry are still having trouble with staffing.
Still, the next couple of weeks can be a major push back to normalcy and positive momentum for businesses and customers alike. Dormuth said their April survey results show 60 per cent of small businesses are having trouble getting people to return to buying products or services in person.
“It’s a time to come together in the spirit of things, and I ask for everything to be in a respectful manner,” she said. “I think we are headed into quite the week here across the province as our two teams come head to head in the Stanley Cup playoffs.”