The Eagles announced today that after 17 years they would no long hold training camp at Lehigh University, leaving businesses near the campus dealing with the reality of less money coming in this year.
Eagles training camp practices were free but that didn’t mean that the thousands of football fans coming from near and far were leaving town without dropping some dough in Bethlehem, Pa.
For a decade, the Copperhead Grille on Route 378 has been one of the first (and last) restaurants fans from the Philly area would see as they turned from Route 309 on the way to training camp.
“During training camp we see about a 10-percent increase in our lunch business,” said Copperhead Grille co-owner Mike Dontas.
As you walk into the Grille one of the first things to greet you is an old-school Chuck Bednarik Eagles jersey hanging on the wall. Bethlehem’s favorite son, mementos from the Hall of Famer’s career grace the walls of many local restaurants including the Tally Ho Tavern on of many restaurants along W 4th Street in the city’s South Side neighborhood.
Tally Ho chief financial officer and daytime manager Dave Swirczewski says Eagles football brought people from near and far to the tavern and its outdoor seating area.
“There’s a fairly good lunch trade from it… we’ve had a few players up on our deck in summer,” Swirczewski said as he sat in a booth in the back of the tavern.
“What it really did more than anything else was that it brought people who wouldn’t have been here otherwise…. They’re pretty easy to spot, they got their Eagles gear on.”
Some businesses along 4th Street at the foot of Lehigh’s campus couldn’t speculate on how hard the hit would be but others had an idea.
“I think it’s going to affect everyone on the South Side,” Swirczewski said.
“It’s gonna affect business,” said Anthony Silvoy as he made sandwiches behind the counter of The Goose on W 4th Street. “You’d get some decent crowds.”
Down 4th Street, Campus Pizza owner Angelo Caiazzo estimates that training camp normally bumped up sales 15 to 20 percent.
“It got us through the summers,” Caiazzo said from behind the counter of his pizza parlor.
“It’s just less of a piece of the pie to have now… after that is taken away it’s just going to be a little bit slower than normal.”
The summer is already slower for many businesses on the South Side.
NBC10.com reached out to both Lehigh University and Mayor John Callahan’s office but neither gave any comment on how much money exactly would be lost.
At the locally-owned and operated Hotel Bethlehem in the city’s Historic Downtown District general manager Dennis Costello estimated that they would lose about $25,000 without the Eagles in town.
“It was a nice little loyal crowd,” Costello said sitting in the lavish lobby of the 91-plus-year-old hotel. “They’d come back, the same people every year.”
Depending on the year, he said that the hotel would book 20 to 30 rooms because of training camp.
“They generally tended to spend two, three, four nights at the hotel. They’d have breakfast here, they’d have drinks.”
Costello also said that Eagles fans would go to nearby restaurants and stores where they would spend more money.
But on Friday nearly every person NBC10.com approached wasn’t as worried about the money as they were sad about the Birds flying the coop.
“From a business perspective we’re going to miss the retail sales and if you’re a (regular) patron of the bar you’re going to miss the sightings of some Eagles,” said Swirczewski.
The biggest summer for these businesses was in 2004 when the arrival of Terrell Owens and a Super Bowl-caliber team drew record crowds to Eagles practice. Since then nearly every business we entered said they’ve seen steady traffic, some even saying business had picked up again in recent years.
“It’s just going to be sad not to have those people here,” Dontas said. He said Copperhead Grille would often add shifts during training camp and he even recalled times when they would open before 11 a.m. because there would already be Eagles fans playing football in the parking lot as they waited to get a bite.
“It’s just going to be sad not to have those people here,” Dontas said.
“It’s not going to close us down, obviously, but at the same time it’s good to have that little extra business from fans.”