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The Daily Illini

Local businesses feel the effect of Lovie Smith’s hire

Daily Illini File Photo

Daily Illini File Photo

By Cole Henke, Staff writer

On the day Lovie Smith was announced as Illinois head football coach, he went to the Student Union to meet with students.

The time and place of the meeting was spread solely by word of mouth for only a couple of hours prior to the event. However, when Smith walked into the Courtyard Cafe in the Union, it was packed wall-to-wall with students waiting to catch a glimpse of the new hire.

It was March and summer was right around the corner, but for once, Illini fans couldn’t wait until fall.

Proprietors of local businesses such as Gameday Spirit were in the same mindset as the students visiting the Union — but for different reasons.

“As a merchant manager, I talk about how we in the business high-five for a different reason,” Gameday Retail Manager Cory Shumard said. “That day, we high-fived a little harder than normal. As a merchant who lives in an orange and blue world, we were very excited about the news.”

The Illini open up their season with four home games in a row. Smith is expecting huge crowds for the games this year, which means more people on campus on Saturdays and more opportunities for local businesses.

Gameday partners with the Illinois Athletic Department to sell Illinois merchandise, but did not hear about the news until everybody else did.

Within a day of the hire, Gameday had shirts with Lovie Smith’s name on them. The vendor saw the opportunity and jumped on it. In no time, the shirts were flying off the racks. Shumard kept his stocks high, but he said there were thousands of those shirts sold.

The surge has still not ended.

“We have never experienced a summer like we just did where Illinois football was so prominent,” Shumard said. “Not just with discussions of people walking in the door, but when people were walking in the door we had to cater to them. We had shirts with Lovie on them the day after the hire. I don’t think we have ever had an effect like that from a coaching hire, and I have been on this corner for 20 years.”

According to Shumard, Gameday is on pace to finish with a record-setting August.

Gameday has been able to benefit from the Smith hire for the past five months. Other businesses, such as local restaurants, have to wait until the actual game day to benefit from the increased interest in football.

At Illinois, many fans will go to the game and then hang out on campus for the rest of the day.

One such spot on campus for a postgame meal is Firehaus, a sports bar on Sixth Street in Champaign. Firehaus General Manager Jason Reda loved to see the excitement on campus after the Smith hire.

He said he gets to see the excitement firsthand when people come watch sports at the bar. Reda said his restaurant is always prepared for big crowds, but his staff needs to be ready to keep everything moving once Saturday game days start up.

“We are excited to have all of the excitement on campus,” Reda said. “But we were pretty much at capacity every game day last year, so we are ready to handle it. Now we just have to make sure this place is heavily-staffed and prepare for as many people as we can serve.”

With restaurants and stores preparing for Saturday, Gameday’s Shumard compared the new buzz on campus to something that an Illinois sport hasn’t seen since the 2005-2006 Final Four basketball season.

“We hear everything that everyone else does across Illini nation,” Shumard said. “We hear the excitement. We are trying to prepare for an exceptional turnout, and we are excited for what the month of September holds for us.”

@cole_Henke

 

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