Restaurateurs' real beef is football economics


August 14, 1998|By DAN RODRICKS

ALL DUE respect to the restaurant guys in Little Italy, Fells Point and Canton: Bellyaching about a drop in business on a Saturday night in August was a little -- how should I put this, fellas? -- indelicate. And blaming the media for scaring customers away -- you make a point, but miss one at the same time.

The media in this town did make it sound like a snowstorm was approaching. Public officials, including our cautious mayor, might have gone overboard with their warnings about Big Night -- Reba McEntire at the Arena, Dixieland jazz at Pier 6 and the Ravens at the new stadium -- and the traffic nightmare it could all create.

But did the prospect of something horrific keep people from coming downtown?

Well, uh, duh, not exactly.

The country singer with the big red hair sold out the Arena; there were between 10,500 and 11,000 Reba fans there.

About 66,000 men and women went to the new Ravens stadium.

Pete Fountain drew 1,231 to Pier Six. That's far from a sellout. (It was Pete Fountain, for cryin' out loud, not Pete Townshend.)

So, Baltimore was hoppin' on a Saturday night in August.

But Little Italy wasn't hoppin'. And Fells Point wasn't hoppin'. Or so the restaurant guys tell us.

The dire warnings about traffic gridlock might have been the main reason. But there might have been other reasons why people, particularly the football fans, didn't opt for dinner in Little Italy or drinks in Fells Point Saturday night. It could be that those wacky economists are correct about the entertainment dollar being a fixed dollar: Money spent on a football game is money not spent in a restaurant or on a play or even on a short, weekend excursion. Average people only have so much money for fun.

This argument annoys the movers and shakers behind professional football. It presents a significant debunkment of the widely hailed economic impact of publicly funded stadiums. They don't necessarily make wealth for a community, they just give people a new opportunity to spend money they would have spent anyway on something else.

I might be wrong about this, but I doubt it.

Ravens games have the potential to create a Big Weekend festival feeling in downtown Baltimore. Maybe the restaurants and bars in Little Italy, several long blocks away, will benefit eventually, though football fans -- in contrast to baseball fans -- are more inclined to tailgate than dine out. Maybe the Ravens home games will be a wash for the bars and restaurants on the southeastern edge of the harbor.

Even so, I have a feeling they'll be OK. Canton and Little Italy establishments appear to be thriving most of the year. Last time I ate in Little Italy, I paid $22 for an entree that was primarily pasta, and I didn't see any waiters standing in doorways wondering where the customers were.

Larry made her do it

All that stuff about Eileen Rehrmann miscalculating the incumbent governor's vulnerability in good economic times and her seizing the wrong issue (legalized slot machines) as a campaign theme is just that, a bunch of stuff. We don't need intricate analysis to establish the origins of Rehrmann's campaign to nowhere. This isn't very complicated. To twist a line from "The Godfather" saga: It wasn't business. It was personal.

Rehrmann allowed herself to be used in an effort to settle a score. She got into the campaign because of Larry Gibson. Gibson, the political Merlin, wanted to exact some revenge for the governor's alleged double-cross on slots. He and his protege, the mayor of Baltimore, were also vexed about the state's takeover of the city school system. And Gibson wanted to show everyone who's boss in this state. He got the mayor of Baltimore and the Prince George's County executive to go along with him.

I might be wrong, but I doubt it.

Someone with the intellect of a door could see this campaign was going to amount to little more than a political burp. Voters are reluctant to dispose of an incumbent governor during healthy economic times. (Well, duh.) Identifying a campaign with more legalized gambling was a mistake in Baltimore, in particular, because of the strong opposition to slots among the city's politically active clergy. There's no way someone as sharp as Gibson could have miscalculated, underestimated or failed to see any of this. That's why it's a good hunch the Rehrmann campaign was driven by highly personal considerations. It was a Larry Thing. Apparently, Rehrmann finally figured that out.

Two takes on 'Titanic'

Spotted at Fort McHenry one recent weekend: A mother and teen-age daughter walking side-by-side, enjoying the sunshine. Daughter wore "Titanic" T-shirt with dreamy pictures of Leonardo and Kate. Mother wore T-shirt with the words: "The boat sank. Get over it."

It's Nasty business

Thumbs-up to Nasty Nestor Aparicio and the gang behind the all-sports talk station, 1570-AM. It's a real kick to tune in for lively sports conversation in the middle of the day. I liked what I heard the other morning with Spiro Morekas and pals. Noon-til-4 host Jim Rome is fresh, funny and weird. Nasty still holds court in the late afternoons. He's seized control of the station and might end up owning the place. We could see this guy at the Entrepreneur of the Year banquet next year.

This Just In appears each Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dan Rodricks can be reached at 410-332-6166, by post at The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278, or by e-mail at

Pub Date: 8/14/98

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