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World Cup Winners, and Losers : Commerce: Many Pasadena merchants saw profits rise 10% to 30%. But fears of fan traffic kept locals away, hurting business at some establishments.

July 21, 1994|DENISE HAMILTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Soccer's Fat Lady has sung.

For many bars and restaurants in Old Pasadena, it was a welcome tune, as cash registers rang up record sales, especially last Sunday when Brazil and Italy faced off for the World Cup championship.

Some said business was up 10% to 30% overall, as hungry sports hordes snapped up plates of pasta and souvenirs and quenched their thirsts with frosty pitchers of amber beer.

"In the last week, it was extraordinary," said a beaming Armen Shirvanian, owner of the trendy Italian bistro Mi Piace. Shirvanian said that he had to double-order food and liquor to keep from running out and that he sold 1,500 beers on Sunday, for example, instead of the usual 200.

But for others, the World Cup extravaganza struck a distinctly sour note.

At Old Town Bakery, several blocks west of where the main action unfolded, revenues have been down one-third throughout July as regulars stayed away, said Joel Kessel, the eatery's director of operations.

Adding insult to the injurious lack of sales, many World Cup fans poured into Old Town Bakery not to eat or drink but to use the restrooms after Sunday's game, Kessel said. Once there, they pulled a toilet out of the wall and urinated and defecated throughout the facilities, causing $1,000 in damages.

"This was not a positive experience at all; we lost a lot of money," Kessel said.

Also disappointed was Club Shelter, located in an attractive shopping complex behind Colorado Boulevard and lacking the street prominence to draw in patrons.

Manager Steve Waite said the World Cup was a wash for his club. He said he was especially irked by the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, which asked him to close early three times last week but did not cite the restaurant for any violations of the liquor law.

"We're only open from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m., so if they're asking us to shut down one hour early, they're taking 20% of our business," Waite fumed.

Michael Hawkins, president of the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce, said business was "fairly stagnant" for merchants outside Old Pasadena because many regulars stayed away, fearing the entire city would be overrun with sports fans.

Hawkins, a partner in the Green Street restaurant off Lake Street, said his sales were down 10% for the World Cup's duration and even more on game days. Only now are the regulars trickling back.

The Chamber of Commerce won't have final data until this fall, after it receives figures from the State Board of Equalization. But Hawkins said he believes that bars, restaurants and souvenir shops along Colorado Boulevard benefited most.

Additionally, Hawkins said that in the long run the World Cup will pay off in other ways because it put Pasadena on the map for millions of fans watching around the world who may want to vacation or do business here.

Some local businesses without food, drink or services to sell to fans seized upon the World Cup as a golden networking opportunity. The Parsons Corp. hosted a lavish dinner at the Ritz-Carlton for the chairman of the Russian Council of Federation, Vladimir F. Shumeiko, and his entourage of 13 parliamentarians.

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At the dinner, Parsons officials introduced the Russians to projects that the international firm has expertise in, including refinery, construction, power, transportation and environmental work.

"They came because of the World Cup," said Ron Wildermuth, Parsons' director of corporate relations. "Having met them personally will help us in arranging future business. . . . That's incredibly positive."

Being on Colorado Boulevard, meanwhile, wasn't necessarily a license to print money. Of the merchants who suffered a slow month, many blamed the media, which they said wrote and broadcast stories, playing up the crowds and thus scaring away locals.

"The crowds didn't interrupt business, it was the perception of crowds," said Jack D. Smith, president of the Old Pasadena Business and Professional Assn., which has 370 members.

"From Wednesday on, if you owned a restaurant or bar or sold souvenirs, you did great," Smith said. "I own a gift basket company and my business was down 30% to 40%. In the short term, you suffered. In the long term you couldn't ask for better press because people are going to come back and visit."

At the Columbia Bar and Grill, one bartender said the restaurant was dead for most of the World Cup.

"It was terrible," added a waitress. "Then Sunday it came in like a tidal wave and we were running out of food and beer." The restaurant closed at 8 p.m. instead of the usual 10 p.m. because it had run out of so many essentials.

Billy Bitonti, who owns a complex of three bars and restaurants on Fair Oaks, had the luck to be located directly across the street from where the shuttle buses lined up to pick up and drop off World Cup crowds.

Bitonti spent $200,000 expanding his downstairs sports bar and had projected that business would be up 50% during the World Cup.

Instead, he estimates it was closer to 30%. He plans to use some of those profits to relax during a nine-day trip to Southern Mexico.

"I can't wait; I haven't seen my family for one month, I've been working 19-, 20-hour days. It's been very stressful and I'm glad it's over."

At CT's, a popular hangout on Colorado Boulevard, it wasn't too hard to figure out how things went.

"CT's closed Monday and Tuesday," read a sign. "Gone to Vegas to spend the World (Cup) money--the Management."

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