BLOOMINGTON — Nick’s English Hut in downtown Bloomington has been a fixture on Kirkwood Avenue since 1927. Glass encased jerseys signed by former Indiana University football, basketball and baseball players adorn the walls on the bar upstairs.
On football Saturdays, the sports bar usually bustles with patrons before, during and after games at Memorial Stadium.
“We would probably see an increase of roughly three-to-four times the sales for home football weekends,” said Nick’s general manager Pete Mikolaitis.
But on this Saturday, with the IU-Western Kentucky game canceled due to the Big Ten’s decision to postpone fall sports because of the coronavrius pandemic, Nick’s will be noticeably less busy. Capacity inside remains cut to 50% due to state and local health guidelines, but Nick’s has adapted with outdoor seating that spills out to Kirkwood Avenue, thanks to the road being closed Thursday through Sunday to accommodate businesses.
“Right now, we take it day by day,” Mikolaitis said. “We’re fortunate enough to still be able to at least break even, pay our employees and keep our lights on and our doors open.”
Other businesses in Big Ten towns haven’t been as lucky. Newer bars and retail stores in Big Ten cities throughout the Midwest have been forced to shut their doors due the impact of the pandemic and the loss of projected sales.
Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce president Erin Predmore said the estimated economic impact of an IU home football game ranges from $4 million to $6 million, depending on the opponent. Businesses that benefit most include hotels, bars and restaurants and retail and apparel shops downtown.
Bloomington businesses likely wouldn’t have made all of that money back had IU played football Saturday, because there still would have been attendance restrictions at Memorial Stadium due to state and local guidelines. Some visitors to Bloomington, though, still would have helped an area that has been struggling since the pandemic began in March.
“We have definitely seen that ripple effect for the rest of the different industries that support the restaurants or support the hotels or maybe business services or things like that, because they were so devastated and they weren’t able to continue to be that economic driver for others,” Predmore said.
One of those ripple effects includes Master Rental Center, a business on West 3rd Street that rents tents, tent accessories, tables, chairs and fencing for events. Master Rental Center does all of the tent and fencing business for tailgates and security in and around Memorial Stadium. Company owner Deron Lavin said his deal with IU football represented roughly $125,000 to $140,000 in revenue.
“It’s definitely over a six-figure loss,” Lavin said.
Lavin said he’s been fortunate other business has come his way to help mitigate that loss. For example, Master Rental Center did the entire setups for COVID-19 testing for IU students when they returned to campus.
“That was a two-and-a-half week project,” Lavin said. “That was my setup. I’ve got other tents around campus that are long term setups that were like outdoor performance hubs, whether it’s music or speeches or anything like that, and we’re still going. There’s more tents coming in for dining halls, larger residence halls, meetings and stuff. Jacobs School of music — I just did a full setup for them. I definitely lost that revenue, but it was replaced by something else. So incredibly blessed in that fashion.”
Mikolaitis said Nick’s next concern is whether IU plays home basketball games at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall this season, which provides another significant sales boost during the fall and winter months. Predmore said federal, state and local aid have helped somewhat, and she’s used the chamber office as a resource to help businesses find out how to access that aid. But she said more aid is needed to help Bloomington-area businesses survive.
“Many of our industries have less than six months of cash on hand,” Predmore said. “So if you don’t have sufficient support, state and federal, no stimulus packages and things like that, then you are not going to be able to support these same businesses through their recovery, and they won’t be able to make it.”