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Super Bowl's real winners and losers? Local businesses

Travelers descend an escalator to the ticketing floor at Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport on Monday, Feb, 5, 2018. The airport was set to handle over 50,000 passengers, mostly from people departing the Twin Cities after Super Bowl LII. (John Autey / St. Paul Pioneer Press)

MINNEAPOLIS—The owner of a downtown Minneapolis escape room was expecting a rush for Super Bowl weekend. Almost no one showed up.

A restaurant owner located near Nicollet Mall, on the other hand, reported some of the best days in the history of her business.

With no officials numbers in yet about the economic impact of the Sunday, Feb. 4, big game on the Twin Cities, local businesses are chiming in with anecdotes. They don't tell a uniform story.

Hotels and restaurants, particularly those close to the stadium, seemed to fare pretty well, for the most part. Other businesses and restaurants on the outskirts of the city complained that they lost business because of the event.

"I think that we had a great week," said Andrea Mokros, a spokesperson for the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee.

The Minnesota Department of Revenue and other officials say it will be at least a couple of months before revenue numbers roll in. Rockport Analytics is surveying vendors and event venues and will unveil an economic impact report in April, Mokros said.

She's optimistic that Super Bowl LII met or exceeded the company's earlier projections that 1 million attendees to countless special events and the game itself would pump $400 million into the local economy.

"We promised the Bold North, and we delivered," Gov. Mark Dayton said at a ceremony served as a hand off to next year's host city, Atlanta.

"I'm very proud of Minnesota," Dayton said. "We did our very, very best."

Location mattered

The Super Bowl certainly filled up area hotels, according to Dan McElroy, president and CEO of Hospitality Minnesota, a coalition of restaurant, lodging, and resort and campground associations. Some on the outskirts of the metro didn't fill up until the end of January—after the teams were decided—but in general, hotel operators were happy, McElroy said.

With restaurants, location mattered.

"We've heard from those in downtown Minneapolis that they were quite busy, and to a lesser extent, downtown St. Paul. I talked to at least a couple of members who had hoped to be even busier than they were," McElroy said.

A restaurant owner near Nicollet Mall, for instance, reported some of the best days in the history of her restaurant.

"It's not a uniform story, but in general, it's a pretty positive story," McElroy said. "Employees got, in most cases, as many hours as they wanted. Many were able to work over time. I haven't heard anything real specific about tipping, but what we've heard from people in the past is that people traveling for events are often generous with their tips."

Adds Mokros, a resident of downtown Minneapolis: "I've never seen a line waiting to get into Brit's Pub before."

Further away on St. Paul's East Side, Torrance Beavers, head chef at Brunson's Pub, wasn't banking on much of a rush. An above-average turnout on Sunday made him happy.

"Unless you're a sports bar or in a prime spot, (the Super Bowl) doesn't generate a lot of traffic," he said. "It's not a big day for restaurants. Most people are at a Super Bowl party or at a known sports bar. But we had a pretty good crowd."

The festivities "did help some," said Tom Scanlon, who extended the hours at his Dubliner Pub on St. Paul's University Avenue this past weekend. "It wasn't the big hullabaloo. We got some people from other bars that didn't have the late night closing, just locals. ... Everything went to Minneapolis really."

A gamble for businesses

Art Allen needed to sell 40 tickets a day to meet expenses at his four-year-old Riddle Room, a Hennepin Avenue escape room located near St. Anthony Main. On Monday, he said sales repeatedly fell to zero. On a good day, he sold 10 tickets.

"We were expecting the opposite," said Allen, who said the corporate parties never materialized. "We were expecting a rush of people."

Jill Pavlak, co-owner of the Urban Growler taproom and kitchen, said the Super Bowl crowds didn't venture to her location six blocks north of University Avenue in St. Paul.

As a featured vendor through the Super Bowl's "Small Business Connect" program—which spotlights female- and minority-owned businesses—she was hoping for a boost, and even put regular bookings in her event room on hold in anticipation of corporate parties.

By late last week, not a peep.

"We haven't seen an increase this week at all," Pavlak said Friday. "Maybe it's just too cold. ... We've seen nothing."

Mokros said not everyone in the Small Business Connect program got new business from it, but an NFL Tailgate Party at the Minneapolis Convention Center was more successful. "Every single caterer was from that list," she said.

Throngs of visitors descended onto Nicollet Avenue for the concerts and exhibits. Nestled among them was Katie Romanski. She put her life savings into the Minnesota Nice Cream truck and parked it at the Super Bowl Live event. It was slow going early.

Some food truck vendors with her on Nicollet Avenue struggled to break even until Saturday, the day before the Super Bowl. Several moved from their designated locations to cluster together closer to the Verizon Stage, where the main music acts performed.

"It wasn't what we all expected but it was great exposure and I met a lot of great people," said Romanski, who sold hot "lava" brownies with bacon strips and assorted toppings and now plans to open her own shop in northeast Minneapolis. "After seeing how slow it was at the beginning of the week, I really pushed social media and I think it worked! Made the best out of an icy situation."

How did St. Paul do?

In St. Paul, B. Kyle, president and CEO of the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, said Friday that new "visitors are here and they are spending money. But from what we've seen, it's not the dramatic impact we expected. But it's only Friday."

By Monday, however, little had changed. "The further away from the centers of (Super Bowl and Winter Carnival) activity in St. Paul—the Xcel Energy Center, Rice Park and CHS Field—the less benefit, it seems," Kyle said.

On the other hand, said Kyle, downtown St. Paul restaurants, parking ramps and hotels in both cities were packed, thanks to the seven-story Ecolab Ice Palace towering over Rice Park and a full slate of Winter Carnival events.

Mall of America thrives

Certain venues hogged more attention than others.

The Mall of America in Bloomington held three Super Bowl-related parties—including welcome parties for the families of the Patriots and Eagles players—and more than 50 in-store events and celebrity appearances. Radio and television stations were set up for scores of celebrity interviews.

In all, some 1 million visitors hit the mall, about 25 percent more than in an average week.

"We ... have heard from several of our retailers that they experienced increased sales throughout the week, with some by 50 percent or more," a mall spokesman said in a written statement.

That publicity pays off

The Twin Cities' biggest payoff may have been all that positive national press about our exceedingly friendly people and quirky attractions. Some 9,000 fans flooded into St. Paul Rice's Park on Jan. 25 for the official opening of the Ecolab Ice Palace, a seven-story castle made of 4,000 blocks of ice.

Organizers said the ice palace helped "brand" St. Paul at a time when so much attention was focused on Minneapolis. Whether visitors would have ventured down to Rice Park anyway is harder to gauge.

What's clear is the exposure has been great.

"We've never seen such a deluge of national and international press," said Molly Steinke, media relations director at public relations firm Nemer Fieger. The company handled Winter Carnival-related press requests from Boston to Japan, including NBC Nightly News, "Man Versus Food" on the Travel Channel, ESPN Portugal and the BBC, among others.

"I think more than anything SB52 provides a major spotlight for our community ... and with it an opportunity for St. Paul to shine and show the world what we are all about," Kyle, at the St. Paul chamber, said.

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