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Denver’s LoDo businesses counting on big Rockies opening day profits

Record breaking.

That’s Chris Fuselier’s prediction for the Colorado Rockies’ opening day on Friday. He’s not referring to record attendance or on-field action. Fuselier is betting his business, Blake Street Tavern, will see the busiest day in its 19-year existence when Coors Field hosts the first opening day with no COVID-19 crowd restrictions since 2019.

“People are climbing the walls to get out,” Fuselier said. “We had a fantastic March Madness tournament. We were very busy on Saturday and Monday night and I anticipate this Friday will be our all-time busiest day ever.”

Joel Watkins hopes to score an opening-day personal best of 800 hot dogs sold from his cart at the corner of 19th Avenue and Wynkoop Street. He has operated Diamond Dawgs at Rockies games since Coors Field opened in 1995 and he’s ready for a return to pre-pandemic activity.

Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

Chris Fuselier, owner of Blake Street Tavern, poses for the portrait at the bar in Denver on Wednesday, April 6, 2022.

“I’m excited about it. Everybody downtown is excited about it,” Watkins said. “People are coming out of winter. This just kind of opens up the summer.”

Denver business leaders and the sports bars, restaurants and stores around the ballpark hope that opening day marks the beginning of a new season for downtown’s pandemic-induced winter. Activity downtown dropped after the exodus of people from offices in March 2020 when COVID-19 restrictions were imposed and restaurants and entertainment venues closed and then reopened at limited capacities.

Some prominent establishments around Coors Field have closed, such as LoDo’s and El Chapultepec. New ones have opened: Whiskey Row in LoDo’s old spot, and El Tejano Tex-Mex, Loaded nightclub and Smash Face Brewing on Market Street. But some spaces remain empty. And the camps of unsheltered people living in tents on city streets have stood out more.

A cleanup of camps in the ballpark area was done Tuesday, but not because of the opening-day game, Nancy Kuhn, a spokeswoman for the city Department of Transportation and Infrastructure said in an email. She said regular cleanups are conducted for the health and safety of everyone and outreach teams talk to people beforehand about resources and shelters.

Despite challenges heightened by the pandemic, Downtown Denver Partnership, which represents business interests and works with civic leaders on economic development and other projects, said business is picking up downtown. Kourtny Garrett, the partnership’s president and CEO, said about 40% of workers have returned to downtown offices, although the number fluctuates daily.

Driven in part by people dining out and visiting other spots, downtown’s foot traffic is averaging just shy of 200,000 daily, according to the partnership. Garrett said the daily average in 2019 was about 250,000, including nights and weekends.

This year’s opening day of baseball, the first with no COVID-19-related restrictions or crowd limits since 2019, could mark “a moment of return and celebration that really gives a nod to the life and community that is still strong in Denver,” Garrett said.

“I’m hearing from business leaders as well as small businesses that everybody is looking forward to this as a turning point,” Garrett added. “I’m also hearing, ‘Well, I haven’t been to opening day in a few years and I’m going this year.’”

Garrett said this year’s opening day could beat previous attendance figures. The downtown partnership planned a community party from noon to 2 p.m. Friday in the second block of Skyline Park, along Arapahoe Street between 15th and 17th streets.

Colorado Rockies pitcher Kyle Freeland, front, ...

Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

Colorado Rockies pitcher Kyle Freeland, front, and teammates warm up during a team workout at Coors Field in Denver on Thursday, April 7, 2022, the day before the season’s home opener.

Like a holiday

In 2020, the pandemic delayed the start of Major League Baseball until late July and no fans were allowed in. At the start of the 2021 season, the crowd size was capped at 42.6% of the stadium’s capacity, or 21,363 fans. Coors Field returned to 100% capacity June 28, 2021.

“It’s just been a roller coaster,” Samantha Taxin, general manager of the Cherry Cricket, said of the last two years.

The Cherry Cricket, a longtime popular Denver burger and beer establishment, opened its second location on Blake Street near Coors Field on April 17, 2018, after opening day. Taxin said opening day in 2019 was great. Then the pandemic hit.

This year, with no limits on the number of fans in the stadium, Taxin said opening day is like a holiday. She thinks it’s “going to blow every other day out of the water” in terms of business.

“We’re expecting shoulder-to-shoulder” people, Taxin said. “People are excited to eat burgers and drink beer and be in their purple. It’s a party. It’s what we look forward to every year, so it’s nice to have it back.”

The Cherry Cricket has 32 taps and “so much beer we don’t know what to do with it,” Taxin said. The business also has a cleaning regimen to keep things sanitized. Taxin said she encourages people to wear masks if they want to.

On the 16th Street Mall, employees at the Sportsfan sportswear store were preparing for a long day on Friday and probably Saturday, the second day of the Rockies’ three-day homestand against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Manager Grant Hartmeister said the store will be open 8 a.m.-8 p.m.

“Opening day is one of our busiest days,” Hartmeister said. “The Broncos are still king in Denver, so a couple of other days are bigger because of that fact.”

While some downtown bars and restaurants weren’t quite fully staffed, Hartmeister said he will have all the people he needs. He can pull in employees from other Denver-area Sportsfan stores if he needs to.

But the Sportsfan was wrestling with another lingering effect of the pandemic: supply-chain issues. Hartmeister didn’t have as many Dodgers products on hand as he would have liked. “Shipping and logistics are getting in the way.”

Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

Bar manager Darin Fischer assembles kegs in advance of the 2022 Colorado Rockies home opener at Blake Street Tavern in Denver on Wednesday, April 6, 2022.

One for the record books

At the Blake Street Tavern, Fuselier, the owner was interviewing prospective employees earlier in the week. Like a lot of businesses, especially in the hospitality industry, the tavern has dealt with labor shortages during the pandemic.

“We’re still hiring. We are short staffed, just like everybody,” Fuselier said.

However, when it comes to beer, there will be no shortages, he added. The tavern, which has three bars and an outdoor beer garden, went through more than 100 kegs on the day of the Saint Patrick’s Day parade, and Fuselier expects to go through at least 150 to 200 kegs on opening day. A refrigerated truck with supplies will be outside.

“It’s our first real opening day in three years. COVID hit us in the middle of March 2020, so we lost opening day that year. Then last year, we had a much much smaller opening day,” Fuselier said.

The Rockies first home game is usually Blake Street Tavern’s busiest day of the year with $125,000 to $150,000 in sales. The next busiest day is Saint Patrick’s Day. This year, the tavern pulled in $95,000 in sales on Saint Patrick’s Day, the best daily take so far this year.

“I’m really excited to say that this past March we did the same amount of sales that we did in March of 2019,” said Fuselier, who expects Friday’s to be his biggest business day ever.

“There were many days I thought about turning in the keys and saying I can’t take this anymore,” Fuselier said. “I’m glad that I stuck through it for me and my staff.”

Tom’s Watch Bar in McGregor’s Square, next door to Coors Field, missed opening day in 2021, but started operations in June, three weeks before the MLB All-Star Game in Denver. Bar co-founder Tom Ryan called the experience “baptism by fire” and “a spectacular four days.”