Merchants, Restaurants, Rental Firms
Brace For The Summer That May Not Be
By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – Let’s start with some good news.
As soon as the coronavirus threat is safely dispatched, Destination Marketing Corporation of Otsego County plans to launch a new promotion: “On Deck: Your Cooperstown Bucket List Getaway,” aimed at attracting fans from around the region whose lifelong dream is to visit Baseball’s Mecca.
“Not now,” DMCOC Executive Director Cassandra Harrington said Tuesday, March 24. “But when things change.”
DMOC was seeking a positive response to Cooperstown Dreams Park’s posting on its website at 9 p.m. Friday, March 20: Because of the coronavirus threat, “Cooperstown Dreams Park has determined it is necessary to cancel the 2020 season.”
The impact on the local economy was immediate.
Over the weekend, Lonetta Swartout, proprietor of Cooperstown Stay, the foremost local rental agency for Dreams Park families, said her phone started ringing with players’ parents seeking refunds on this summer’s rental reservations. She and each of her staff have been handling 100 calls a day.
“My hosts have been wonderful about refunding what I’ve already paid them,” she said. “Once they do, Dreams Park families will be repaid as well.”
Sal Furnari, whose Maskot’s Pizza & Grill is right across Route 28 from the Dreams Park entrance, expressed the hope that the other local youth-baseball tournament venue, Cooperstown All-Star Village in West Oneonta remains open; its owner, Marty Patton, said he will be deciding week by week, a month in advance, about whether to proceed.
Still, he said, “health is the most important thing in life. We need to whip this virus before anything happens.”
Mickey’s Place proprietor Vinnie Russo, dean of Cooperstown’s Main Street merchants, expects Dreams Park’s closing will mean a two-thirds drop in downtown shoppers in June.
In July and August, school is out in the Northeast, so that’ll reduce the drop to about one-third, he said.
“There are a lot of people who are going to be affected, even beyond the commercial marketplace,” he said. “There are many people who have acquired homes, put on additions simply to rent them out to Dreams Park families. Many are using rental income to pay their mortgages, or to pay their taxes.
“Dreams Park alone generates income,” he continued. “Many people work there. The families buy food locally; the guy who delivers food there is local. Dreams Park buys supplies from local hardware stores.”
He did original research at the end of the 1990s when Eddie Einhorn, a Chicago White Sox owner, was thinking of establishing Baseball World to compete with Dreams Park. At the time, he found families sharing rentals with other families were spending $1,000 a week on accommodations alone.
That’s $1,000 per family, 1,200 families a week, times 13 weeks: almost $16 million spent on housing alone. And prices have gone up since then.
The concern isn’t limited to Cooperstown; Dreams Park’s impact is felt countywide.
In Oneonta, Southside Mall Manager Luisa Montanti estimated retailers there will feel a 15-percent dip in business.
People buy bathing suits, towels, baseball equipment – things they forget to bring, or didn’t bring enough of,” she said.
A greatest impact will be felt in the mall’s restaurants – the pizza parlor and the national chains. Plus, when it rains, the Southside Cinemas are usually packed, she said.
Alone, the lack of a Dreams Park season has a huge impact, said Russo. But the renovations of Doubleday Field means it isn’t being rented out to out-of-town teams looking to playing ball in the “Home of Baseball.”
What happens next depends on how quickly and successfully the State of Emergency quells the coronavirus threat, he said, whether it takes a month, or six weeks, two months, or longer.
A few businesses have “interruption insurance,” he said, and the governor’s emergency declaration closing stores would likely cover that.
Some of the downtown merchants own their stores, have been there for more than 20 years and have paid off their mortgages. They will be in better shape than stores that rent, or merchants who have bought buildings in the past decade, he said.
Still, business owners are looking for a bright side.
For instance, Furnari is hoping Cooperstown All-Star Village’s rolling schedule will have families driving past his Route 28 Maskot’s again by mid-summer.
And Swartout recounted the father of one of her renting families telling her, “I already have the week off. I’m coming to Cooperstown!”