Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jets games a huge boost for businesses

Fans rush for seats at eateries

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It was the night restaurateurs have been waiting for since they found out the Winnipeg Jets were returning to town.

And, oh, what a night it was. Downtown bars, pubs and restaurants were jammed to capacity immediately after the workday was done as hockey fans prepared to watch the first Jets game in more than 15 years. Hundreds of people snuck out of work early to make sure they got a table -- ideally in front of a big-screen TV -- and those who didn't were only too happy to wait in line.

"It was the first game and the atmosphere was electric. We were full on (the restaurant and lounge) sides by five o'clock. Everyone was in a fantastic mood and couldn't wait to get into the game," said Anton Pradinuk, general manager at Moxie's Classic Grill on the first floor of the MTS Centre.

Things were equally crazy down the street at Boston Pizza in cityplace. Kyanne MacDonald-Johnson, the restaurant's assistant general manager, said the rush started at 4:30 p.m. and the place was packed 45 minutes later.

"That's quite unusual. People wanted to get downtown early. Everyone was so excited. I've never seen so much Jets merchandise, hats, T-shirts and jerseys in my life," she said.

Boston Pizza's lounge stayed 90 per cent full once the puck dropped and filled up again after the final whistle, she said.

The second-busiest place downtown, trailing only the sold-out MTS Centre, was 4Play Sports Bar, which hit its capacity of 560 people by 6 p.m. Manager Rhiannon Hayes said Tuesday night's activity was crazier than any other sporting event night it has had since it opened in the spring of 2010. The only other nights that compared were "Bring Back The Jets" rallies, she said.

"Tuesday was definitely one of the top three nights we've ever had. It was the highest number of girls we've had on in a night and bartenders as well. We wanted to make sure everyone was taken care of and happy," she said.

And the best part about it all is things are only going to get busier. Next Friday night, the Nashville Predators are coming to town for the final exhibition game of the pre-season. That should mean bars and restaurants will start the weekend by filling up before the opening face-off and stay that way until closing time. Then the much-hyped home opener against the Montreal Canadiens on the afternoon of Oct. 9 should send the energy level into the next stratosphere.

"We've been getting calls about that day since the schedule was announced, asking us if we're going to open at 7 a.m. We won't be opening up that early. We haven't decided when we're going to open yet. We have to check the liquor laws first," Hayes said.

Pradinuk said it wasn't difficult to notice the demographic for Jets games is decidedly different from that of Moose games.

"Unfortunately, the days of mom, dad and two children going to the game, it looks like that's gone now. The (Jets) crowd is a bit older. There's more business people and buddies now and not as many families. It's not better or worse, it has just changed a bit," he said.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 22, 2011 B1

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