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Lightning’s Playoff Success Assisting Downtown Tampa Businesses

a bronze statue hoists the stanley cup over his head. a Lightning bolt sculpture is in the background.
Daylina Miller/WUSF Public Media
A statue of former Tampa Bay Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk hoisting the Stanley Cup greets visitors near the entrance to Amalie Arena in downtown Tampa.

Business owners in downtown Tampa say the pandemic made them struggle, but thanks to the city's winning sports teams and increased capacity at arenas and stadiums, things are starting to boom again.

Bars and restaurants in downtown Tampa were hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. But the return of playoff hockey may be a saving grace.

As fans return to watch the Tampa Bay Lightning, business owners near Amalie Arena say things are starting to balance out. Capacity inside the arena is up to 70%, but fans have been gathering nearby in greater numbers as well.

a man in a light blue polo stands with his arms crossed in front of the Fermented Reality Biergarten  sign.
Daylina Miller/WUSF Public Media
Joel Bigham, the owner of the Fermented Reality Biergarten at Sparkman Wharf, says business is picking up thanks to their outdoor seating and the Tampa Bay Lightning's wins. The bar's six screens broadcast all the games.

Joel Bigham, the owner of the Fermented Reality Biergarten at Sparkman Wharf, said business has been improving. He attributes a lot of that to the defending Stanley Cup champions’ recent success.

“That traffic was a slow build over time, to kind of where we are today. And you know, the Lightning in the playoffs and the last Lightning in thelast playoffs fed into that a lot and helped people to remember that we're here as well.”

He also says that morale around the outdoor bar is better when the team wins.

“In fact, every game of the first round was sequentially busier. And I expect round two to be more of the same. I mean, everyone's on the bandwagon. Even if you didn't like hockey before, everybody likes to win. And your city wins, and you get to brag and na na na na.”

A woman in a black baseball cap and light blue shirt and black apron leans on a counter.
Daylina Miller/WUSF Public Media
Edison's Swigamajig's Chef Jordan Schmidt said people are becoming less afraid to venture out.

Down just a few businesses from the Biergarten is Edison's Swigamajig, where Chef Jordan Schmidt said people are becoming less afraid to venture out.

“Business has definitely picked up during the games, especially home games,” Schmidt said. “When we first came back (from being closed during the pandemic), it was really quiet. But with the sports, it has brought people out here because it's more open.”

A man in a black sous chef outfit and ballcap sits at a wooden table and speaks into a microphone.
Daylina Miller/WUSF Public Media.
Harpoon Harry’s Crab House's sous chef Matt Mullavey said before the pandemic, the restaurant was packed wall to wall. Now that cases are lower and the Tampa bay Lightning are winning games, he said business is starting to pick up.

At Harpoon Harry’s Crab House, sous chef Matt Mullavey said the pandemic crushed business.

“Before COVID, this place was packed...wall to wall. And when they did allow fans to return, business was slow. People were skeptical. ‘Should we go out? Is it safe to go out?’ Is it safe to go to the game?’

"But now everything's ‘boom.’ And I feel like everything's going back to normal.”

The Lightning lost 3-2 to the Carolina Hurricanes in game three of the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs Thursday night. They still lead the series 2-1 with game four Saturday at 4 p.m. at Amalie Arena.

Jacob Wentz is the inaugural WUSF Rush Family Radio News intern for the summer of 2021.
I took my first photography class when I was 11. My stepmom begged a local group to let me into the adults-only class, and armed with a 35 mm disposable camera, I started my journey toward multimedia journalism.