With posters up shouting “It’s Back!” and some tricks to get hockey fans cheering again, Jim Beauchamp was busy this week finalizing plans aimed at recouping losses incurred during the NHL lockout.
Like other West Island bar and restaurant owners, Beauchamp, an owner of Cunninghams Pub, one in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue and the other in Hudson, saw food and beverage sales hurt by the protracted labour dispute and, this week, he was anxious to see hockey back on.
The Canadiens’ first game of the new shortened 48-game season, Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Bell Centre, will give pent-up fans a chance to scream and yell all the while supporting Canadian hockey and local businesses, Beauchamp said.
“That’s why we are saying ‘It’s back,’ ” Beauchamp said, pointing to the big posters in the front window of his Ste-Anne St. pub and clarifying a debate now raging on the pub’s facebook page.”
“I keep telling people it is not about supporting the players or the owners,” he said. “It’s about supporting the Canadian game of hockey — and that’s why we are saying ‘It’s back!’ not, ‘They’re back!’ “
Although come Saturday, he admitted, the Canadiens will be front and centre in the pub’s first promotion welcoming back hockey — a free round for every goal scored goes to the table assigned the Canadiens player who scores. Players’ cards will be randomly handed out five minutes before game time.
“If you get (Captain Brian) Gionta, you’re lucky … (new player) Ryan White, not so much,” he said with a laugh. “It’s going to be fun,” he said. “It will get people cheering loudly.”
To be sure, compared to those downtown, West Island bars and restaurants got off easy during the NHL lockout. Some Montreal bars, especially those in proximity to the Bell Centre, reported food and beverage sales losses of up to 40 per cent and were forced to lay off staff.
Owners and managers of neighbourhood pubs such as Kelly’s in Valois Village and Ye Olde Orchard in Pointe-Claire Village saw only minimal losses. “We were lucky,” said Brent Laderoute, owner of Pointe-Claire’s McKibbins Irish Pub, which although larger than Kelly’s and Ye Olde Orchard, saw similar losses.
“Soccer, rugby and football kept things going,” he said, as did local guys who like to come in for a beer after playing hockey themselves. He said his sales dropped only about 10 per cent as a result of the lockout.
However, some of the bigger sports bars in the West Island were more affected, wracking up losses in the neighbourhood of 15 and 20 per cent.
Peter Sergakis, owner of Brasserie Le Manoir since 2009, said the Pointe-Claire bar’s sales were down 20 per cent during the lockout and he had to cut the hours of close to half of his 65-person wait and kitchen staff. As of Saturday, he said: “Everyone will be back up to 35 hours.”
And to kick it all off, he said, staff will be wearing Canadiens jerseys on Saturday and fans who arrive between 5 and 6 p.m. wearing a Canadiens jersey will get a $10 voucher for food and beverage: “I expect we will be jammed on Saturday.”
Even after the lockout and all the talk about spoiled millionaire-players and greedy team owners, Montreal remains a hockey town, said John Cristofaro, owner of La Cage Aux Sports in Pointe-Claire, which only saw a 7-per-cent drop in business.
The fact that the shortened season will mean no games out west and more matchups with the Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators, he said, will only help make the 48-game season more exciting — and that is good for business.