1995 was a good year at Ryan Field, both for the home team Wildcats and for nearby Central Street businesses.
“If this was 1995, in November, I wouldn’t have time for an interview,” said Ross Kooperman, owner of The Locker Room, which was established in 1975 across from Ryan Field. “I’d ask the reporter to buy something or come back at closing.”
This year’s four-game winning streak does not compare to 1995’s undefeated Big Ten record. The recent success has, however, boosted business for Kooperman and his fellow Central Street storeowners.
“Attendance and enthusiasm are always important and these two wins help,” Kooperman said after Northwestern’s Nov. 5 win over Nebraska.
For Central Street businesses, there are usually around six days each year that determine the year's success or failure.
“Our business revolves around home football games,” said Kooperman. “Those are the most important days of the year.”
This season, the Northwestern Athletic Department and the Big Ten have sent Central Street on a financial roller coaster. With only three home games through October, including one before the start of Welcome Week, businesses there have not pulled in the dough they are used to by November.
“We don’t have the students on Central Street," said Cindy Gaborek, co-owner of Let’s Tailgate, which opened in 1996 as competition to The Locker Room. "We’re the farthest store from them."
But then came the winning streak, and the tide turned.
“Winning helps us,” Gaborek said. “Especially after a huge win like at Nebraska. That was great.” In other words, more wins means more people want to wear purple.
Although The Locker Room and Let’s Tailgate have been forced to rely on three consecutive home games (the 'Cats are in the midst a three-game home stretch against Rice, Minnesota and Michigan State) to achieve half their expected income, the cold weather is actually a positive for business.
“This year, with three November games, we should sell more sweatshirts and jackets than other years,” Kooperman said. “That helps because they’re more expensive.”
Gaborek agrees with the benefit of the pricing, but dislikes how the final three home games are consecutive. “You sell more with the heavier items,” she said. “But a lot of people don’t like going to consecutive games in a row. They like to break it up.”
There is one other quirk in this season’s schedule: night games. This season, NU was given night games against both Michigan and Penn State.
“I definitely sell more on day games when people tailgate in the parking lot,” Kooperman said. “That’s why basketball games don’t help business. Nobody tailgates, it’s the worst weather and people go right in.”
Victoria Arizmendi, 22, an employee of Mustard’s Last Stand, a staple of Central Street since 1969, believes this season's night games have helped the fast food joint. “We’ve been busier than ever with night games and good weather,” she said. “We close at 1 a.m. on some nights after games."
Kooperman and Gaborek can always rely on one week for good business: Parents’ Weekend. “Parents’ weekend and homecoming weekend are two big weekends for us,” Gaborek said.
With three games left in the season, the businesses of Central Street are not only thinking about the 2011 season, but the 2012 season, which looks quite different. The ‘Cats do have seven home games in 2012, but four fall in September in a 22-day span – when the academic year will just be getting started.
“You don’t want that many games in a row,” Gaborek said. “As I said about these next three games, people don’t like going to consecutive games. And business will be different in the warmer weather.”
Of course, Wildcat victories make up the one statistic will drive most of retail sales for Kooperman and Gaborek. As Northwestern racks up wins on the field, the businesses on Central Street will be set to profits on game days.