Game day jitters

As NFL lockout continues, businesses that depend on the Patriots begin to sweat

By Kathleen Pierce
Globe Correspondent / June 16, 2011

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With a kitty-corner view of Gillette Stadium from its patio at Patriot Place, Tastings Wine Bar & Bistro is a hot spot when the Patriots are in town.

“We are overwhelmingly busy,’’ said owner Bill Martin. “It’s like getting an extra weekend night.’’

But as the National Football League lockout nears 100 days — the result of a dispute between team owners and players over collective bargaining — area businesses such as Tastings are becoming increasingly alarmed. A problem that once seemed far off is now an urgent matter beyond their control.

The tens of thousands of fans who descend on Foxborough to watch the Patriots play pump millions of dollars into the economy. Even a delay in training camp, scheduled to start next month, would be costly. Some businesses have started making contingency plans, while others are pegging their hopes on a resolution to the impasse.

“I would not have opened the restaurant without some assurance that there would be games. If the stadium wasn’t here, I wouldn’t be here,’’ said Martin, one of the first to open at Patriot Place in 2008.

On Tuesday, representatives of the NFL Players Association and a select group of owners met for the third time this month, fueling speculation that the two sides are making progress. But if the labor impasse is not soon resolved and ends up canceling the football season, an estimated $160 million would be lost in each NFL city, according to the players group.

For Rasikbhai Patel, owner of Red Fox Motel, a block from Gillette on Route 1, that’s a nightmarish scenario. From preseason games in August to January playoffs, he typically rakes in $30,000 in $50 parking fees, and nearly triples room rates for game days, from $50 to $140.

“If I lose this money, I will have to borrow from my friends or family to pay my mortgage or heating oil bill,’’ said Patel. “We are struggling.’’

The native of India, who bought the motel from his brother seven years ago, has gone on a tight budget since the lockout was announced in March — there won’t be any Patel family vacation this summer.

“Right now I’m praying to God it will work out,’’ he said of the wrangling between owners and players. “The game must go on.’’

While 70,000 people come to home games, the team’s training camp is a bigger cash cow for businesses such as Five Guys Burgers and Fries at Patriot Place.

During practices, which are open to the public, fans can watch Tom Brady and teammates run drills for several hours a day. The burger shop opens an hour early to take advantage of the sessions.

“We have lines out the door,’’ said Sean Olson, Five Guys franchise owner. “If we don’t have [training camp], business will be cut in half.’’

Olson said the restaurant will generate $220,000 in sales from late-July through August, compared with $100,000 during a typical month. “If we lose that, is it going to cripple us? No. But it will hurt a lot,’’ he said.

At the upscale Renaissance Boston Patriot Place Hotel and Spa, where club owners and well-heeled fans book $599 rooms just 75 yards from the field, every game is serious business, and a marketing tool.

“There are thousands of people that come through Patriot Place, and people say, ‘Wow there’s a hotel here.’ You can’t get [otherwise] that exposure,’’ said Mark Jeffery, the hotel’s general manager. “Games are important for opportunities in the future.’’

While the hotel sells out anytime there is an event at Gillette, such as the Taylor Swift concerts at the end of the month, Jeffery said football “is important for our business. We are hopeful that they [the Patriots] play a full season. It’s obviously concerning at this point that something hasn’t been accomplished.’’

The town of Foxborough receives an average annual payment of $2 million in lieu of taxes from the Kraft organization — which leases the land where the stadium sits. If the football season is scratched, the town would lose about $770,000 in ticket fees.

“The good news is we don’t plan on that to balance our budgets. When that comes in, it’s used in future years,’’ said Randy Scollins, the town’s chief financial officer.

“It’s not a catastrophe, unlike the major dent it would inflict on the local economy,’’ Scollins said. “The security workers, parking lot attendants, convenience store and liquor store owners — I feel bad for these people.’’

There is at least one local business owner who isn’t sweating while the clock ticks and the NFL season remains in limbo. Liam Murphy said his Red Wing Diner in Walpole, a mile from Gillette, is actually hurt when there’s a football game at Gillette — revenue falls by 80 percent, compared with a typical Sunday.

“People don’t want to drive up and make a day of it when the traffic is so atrocious,’’ said Murphy, whose customers trek in from Rhode Island and Vermont for his well-known fried clams.

“I’m a huge Patriots’ fan,’’ he said, “but purely as a businessman it would be a benefit to me if they don’t play.’’

If that happens, many other businesses, however, will have to explore other ways to increase sales this fall. So far, few have a game plan.

“I’ll look to Patriot Place to sponsor more activities and concerts to draw in crowds,’’ said Martin, of Tastings Wine Bar & Bistro. “But it’s hard to do that when you can’t commit the stadium, when you don’t known what’s going to happen.’’