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Originally published Friday, July 4, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Sonics

Businesses around KeyArena will miss the "Sonics rush"

The departure of the Sonics will hit hard at neighboring restaurants and sports bars in Seattle's Queen Anne neighborhood.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Hearing the news of the Sonics' flight from Seattle on the car radio upset Troy Wright so that he had to pull his car to the side of the road and stop.

But it wasn't only for his civic pride or his sports allegiance that he was grieving. It was for his livelihood.

Still fuming a day later, Wright said he never would have opened Ascada Bistro on Queen Anne Avenue North a year and a half ago if he hadn't believed the Sonics would be at neighboring KeyArena.

Fans typically filled four or five of the restaurant's 20 tables when the Sonics were playing. Now Wright expects the restaurant to lose about $400 worth of business every game night.

"When someone devotes all their life savings into something, and then to have the rug pulled out from under them, it's just not right," he said. "How do you replace 42 days out of the year? Even if the city gets money, what does that do for my business?"

With the Sonics' departure, a reliable and sorely needed boost in revenue just evaporated for many surrounding businesses, especially restaurants.

Some say the extinction of the "Sonics rush" could cost them more than $100,000 a year, leaving their business outlook decidedly grimmer.

"It pretty much screws us," said Brandy McCollum, a manager at the year-old Mainstage Comedy and Music Club across from KeyArena.

Just up First Avenue North at sports bar Floyd's Place, game nights typically brought a 50 percent bump in traffic and a $40,000 annual boost in sales. Now that's a memory.

"That's a big hit for a little place like this," said bartender Joe Dimmitt. "It could be devastating."

Next door, Racha Noodles and Thai Cuisine used to seat an extra 200 diners on game nights. Owner Kane Bunyaketu said he does not know how his restaurant can compensate for a yearly drop of about 10,000 customers.

Basketball crowds used to double the volume at T.S. McHugh's on Mercer Street, accounting for $150,000 in annual sales. That was cash flow the pub and restaurant depended on to balance out drier stretches of the year, said owner Don Tremblay.

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He said he needs to rethink the restaurant's marketing plan if he wants to make that back.

"The Sonics have been our biggest draw over 18 years, even when they weren't doing so well," he said. "When people are saying it's not going to be that big of an economic impact — it's a pretty big impact for guys like us."

Many businesses already had seen a slump since the Sonics' record sank, so the team's exodus finishes off the last of a declining source of revenue.

When the team was in the playoffs, Floyd's Place had 80 percent more business than on a regular night.

During the team's 1990s playoff run, Tremblay said every seat at T.S. McHugh's was packed and he had to turn away 100 people a night.

Even businesses that didn't have much direct patronage from Sonics fans, such as Jamie Lutton's Titlewave Books on Mercer Street, could still suffer the ripple effects of a neighborhood-wide slump.

"It's bad for the morale of businesses around here," Lutton said.

"Businesses are like teeth in a smile; if there's a tooth missing, it decreases the beauty of the smile."

With KeyArena available more nights of the year now that the Sonics are leaving, Tremblay, McCollum and others said they hoped more concert bookings could help replace the basketball traffic.

Another silver lining, suggested Rob Baumgartner, the manager of Underdawg Records, could be easier parking.

But overall, owners and managers don't yet know how to replace the thousands of hungry and thirsty people a Sonics game used to draw to Lower Queen Anne.

Isaac Arnsdorf: 206-464-2397 or iarnsdorf@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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