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Hockey's return to Newark welcomed by restaurants and shops catering to Devils fans

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With fan turnout uncertain following the NHL lockout, restaurants and sports stores in Newark were hesitant to celebrate the return of New Jersey Devils games at the nearby Prudential Center. But the flood of followers who crowded the city for last night's home opener against the Philadelphia Flyers quelled their fears, and they expect the boost in business to maintain its momentum throughout the shortened season.

Scott Kleckner, general manager of the Newark Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, said his restaurant leaned on its lunch and catering businesses to remain stable throughout the lockout, but he missed the exposure from being located across the street from the arena.

"The Devils have a great fan base, and for us, the games are an opportunity to have new people coming into our restaurant. The regulars in the lunch crowd are great, but I think only 1 percent of the people that stopped by last night had stopped by in the past," Kleckner said. "The lockout hurt us in taking away that opportunity to promote our brand and location to the people who only come to Newark for events, so the biggest advantage of the team's return for us is the exposure to a broader population."

While Dinosaur Bar-B-Que opened right before the height of last spring’s Stanley Cup playoffs, Kleckner said the restaurant “didn’t question our decision to be in Newark” when that hockey crowd didn’t return throughout the lockout. However, Kleckner said the restaurant shrank its staff as a result of suspended play, as he noted “we have different staffing requirements to be ready for events, and they weren’t taking place.”

Marc Brummer, co-owner of Hobby's Delicatessen & Restaurant, on Branford Place in Newark, said he didn't make any staff cuts during the lockout, but he noted the employees who usually work before Devils games are thrilled that hockey is back.

"We're not open at night unless there's a Devils game, so during the lockout, the place was dark," Brummer said. "But my main business is corporate lunchtime, so anything on top of that is just a nice bonus, and business last night was wonderful."

But for Alison Hinder, co-owner of the Stadium Shop in the concourse of One Gateway, business was so stagnant during the NHL lockout that if the players' union and the league had not stricken a deal to resume play earlier this month, she would have permanently closed her store next month.

"There's a lot of great people in Newark, but Devils fans don't come to the city unless there's a game," Hinder said. "I put everything on credit cards, and I couldn't put anything more on them, so I was pretty much ready to throw in the towel. But finally, everyone came back really excited to see hockey being played again. I didn't know how fans were going to feel with the lockout, but they look so happy to come back, so I'm looking forward to a great season and great business."

According to Rock Entertainment Management President Robert Sommer, all 17,625 tickets sold out for last night's home opener, and the next three Devils home games are sold out, as well. Sommer said the season ticket renewal rate also hit a record, and Devils Chairman Jeff Vanderbeek said in a letter to fans that pre-sale ticket purchases by season ticket holders more than doubled any prior year's results.

Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@njbiz.com

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