Auburn businesses discuss financial impact of 2020 conference-only football season

File photo: Downtown Auburn, Alabama (Source: WSFA)
File photo: Downtown Auburn, Alabama (Source: WSFA)(WTVY News 4)
Published: Aug. 5, 2020 at 12:46 PM CDT
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By Katie Kamin | August 4, 2020 at 6:46 PM EDT - Updated August 4 at 7:10 PM

AUBURN, Ala. (WTVM) - Despite PPP loans and other programs, many small East Alabama businesses have been treading water, trying to stay open amid the pandemic.

Some Auburn businesses feel they have a bit of a lifeline now that the SEC announced football season will be back.

For many restaurants, hotels, and shops in Auburn, football season and sports in general are the real money makers for business.

“We joke and say we have seven Christmases, and those are the seven home games,” said Kim Wirth, the owner of the Collegiate Hotel in Auburn.

For restaurants like Halftime, owners expect a lot of business for home game weekends.

“You’re talking quadruple what our normal sales are,” said Halftime owner David Esposito. “[It’s] sometimes eight, nine, or 10 times what our usual sales are depending on if it’s an away game or a home game.”

These same businesses are taking a huge hit during the pandemic. The Collegiate Hotel was running at 10 percent occupancy for weeks versus the normal 70 percent.

“We went from one day thinking, ‘How many people are we going to have to lay off?” to the next day realizing we were going to have to let our entire team go,” Wirth said.

Esposito, who also owns Espacito’s and Auburn Draft House, took a hit too.

“We’ve had to close two restaurants down [for a while],” he said. “We kept draft house open, and my wife and I ran it for a month just by ourselves.”

As these businesses innovate and keep up with changing regulations, they said the Southeastern Conference’s recent announcement provides a glimmer of hope to stay afloat.

SEC officials shared there will be a 10 game conference-only football season this year.

“As a business owner, we’re happy to get whatever, even one game,” Esposito said.

Wirth agreed.

“Just the idea that we could have some presence for football was a huge celebration here,” she said.

Though these businesses are thrilled to have these football games even with changes, they said they need a little extra help to move forward.

“We’re really hoping that Congress is looking at the small business in this package because for us, they have to come up with solutions, because they’re enforcing these regulations on us,” Wirth said. “They’re making us operate at 50 percent. They’re restricting travel.”

Esposito said Congressional help would also benefit his restaurants.

“Pass something else for the new year or something for a few months,” he said. “We’re looking for something like that. It would really help us out.”

According to Auburn’s city manager, there are still some things about the games up in the air, like if tailgating will be allowed or even if fans will be allowed in the stadium.

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