Tim Mahoney will still be able to hear the crack of the bat from his sports bar steps away from Target Field during the Twins’ home opener Tuesday night.
But there will be no roar of the crowd, a major blow to his and other downtown Minneapolis bars, restaurants and other businesses that depend on Twins foot traffic to buoy their sales.
“The thing about it that we are all going to miss is the excitement,” said Mahoney, owner of the Loon Cafe. “For the home opener, you can sit outside and hear the fans.”
Major League Baseball spring training was suspended in March as the coronavirus pandemic continued to unfurl in the United States. The season began last week, but like other major league sports, fans must watch the games on TV.
The Twins were still on track for the Tuesday night home opener against the St. Louis Cardinals, but MLB had its first major postponements on Monday because of COVID-19. At least two games were postponed after more than a dozen Miami Marlins players and staff members tested positive during a weekend series in Philadelphia.
The Twins’ home opener would normally be one of the busiest days of the year for the Loon Cafe, situated on 1st Avenue near the light-rail line down the street from Target Field.
By late morning, the restaurant would normally be at full capacity, and it would start to resemble a family reunion. Regular season-ticket holders would rediscover one another and also chat with restaurant staff, Mahoney said.
On Tuesday, he expects the atmosphere to be subdued with a much smaller crowd.
Adhering to state guidelines, the Loon Cafe, like other restaurants, has been open with limited capacity for indoor and outdoor diners since last month, after being closed for the spring due to the spread of COVID-19.
With so many downtown offices empty as employees still work from home, business has been slow.
“We are in the middle of the business district, and there’s no business,” Mahoney said.
Eric Fortney, who co-owns Brothers Bar & Grill with his brother Marc, said his business already hasn’t been profitable during the pandemic. The lack of fans and a shortened 60-game schedule add up to a “huge loss.”
For home openers, Brothers usually opens early in the morning, with crowds eventually swelling to 400 to 500, crammed into the establishment’s two levels, Fortney said.
“It’s devastating to the Warehouse District,” Fortney said of the lack of game customers. “It’s a terrible situation on top of a terrible situation.”
While some fans might venture to their local watering hole to watch the game Tuesday, Fortney said he is doubtful that customers from the suburbs will venture to his downtown sports bar.
“Is somebody from Plymouth or Minnetonka or Eden Prairie going to drive into downtown to watch the game? Probably not,” he said.
The impact on businesses should not be understated, said Steve Cramer, president and chief executive of the Minneapolis Downtown Council.
“Restaurants and bars that are open will no doubt be tuned to the game and attract some fans,” Cramer said in an e-mail. “But it won’t be the same, and the positive economic impact just won’t be there.”
The Downtown Council has created a group of restaurant stakeholders to discuss how to welcome patrons back to downtown, with the top priority being public health.
The goal, he said, is to “help patrons feel confident as they return to in-establishment dining experiences.”
Besides the impact from the Twins games, downtown Minneapolis businesses are also suffering because of the cancellation of other professional sports, concerts and conventions.
While the majority of NBA teams will resume their season on Thursday at a single-site campus in Orlando, Fla., the Timberwolves didn’t make the cut. The WNBA season has already begun in Florida — without fans — and the Lynx won their first game Sunday.
Still a wild card for downtown is the NFL’s plans. Right now, the NFL is scheduled to start the football season in September. The Vikings are planning to play downtown with dramatically reduced capacity at U.S. Bank Stadium, although allowing fans at all is still up in the air.
St. Paul businesses also have been stung.
In downtown St. Paul, the Xcel Energy Center has sat dormant since the NHL season was truncated in the spring. The Wild will play in a shortened playoff series starting next week, but in Canada instead of St. Paul.
The St. Paul Saints are playing in Sioux Falls, S.D., and Minnesota United is playing in Orlando.
While live sports are mostly being played without in-person spectators, restaurants and bars are trying to position themselves as safe alternatives where patrons can soak in the gameday atmosphere.
Fulton Brewing close to Target Field is looking at ways to create a “Twins Home Game Experience” at its taproom, but the details haven’t been solidified, said taproom general manager Nikole Harris.
At the downtown Minneapolis Pizza Luce, which is just around the corner from Target Field, employees plan to try to engage on social media with customers who will be watching the Twins games at home.
“That location is absolutely event-driven between sports and concerts,” said Pizza Luce’s marketing manager Corey Sax.
Mahoney, who stopped by his restaurant Monday evening, said the Loon Cafe is ready for diners — with masks to hand out if needed, hand-washing stations and spaced-out tables.
“The fan base, they want as close to normalcy as they can,” he said. “They know the game is going on right there. This is as good as they are going to get.”