Article by: Kevin Duchschere

A roundtable discussion Friday looked to aid small businesses stung by the 12-week revenue-sharing dispute between the NHL and the players’ union.   

With business down 25 percent since the NHL lockout began, owner Miyoko Omori of the Sakura restaurant in downtown St. Paul is relying on family members working long hours to ride things out.

“I just have to find a way to hold on tight,” she said.

That was the theme of a roundtable discussion Friday to aid small businesses stung by the 12-week revenue-sharing dispute between the NHL and the players’ union.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Nancy Libersky, district director for the Small Business Administration (SBA), said the agency is offering microloans as well as marketing and business advice, free of charge, to help businesses stay above water until the impasse breaks.

The discussion took place at the Eagle Street Grille, a favorite stop of hockey fans just across Kellogg Boulevard from Xcel Energy Center. Co-owners Kevin Geisen and Joe Kasel said they’ve had to lay off two-thirds of their staff and gross revenues are down by half from a typical fall when the Wild are playing.

Geisen said Eagle Street was built around catering to the arena and its seasonal hockey traffic. “We can’t take a restaurant like this and change it around,” he said.

Mayor Chris Coleman said local bars and restaurants lose an estimated $900,000 for each game not played, based on an average of $50 spent by the 18,000 fans who typically attend.

City leaders estimated that the economic hit to St. Paul was $60 million in 2004-05, when a labor dispute led to the NHL season’s cancellation.

This time it’s tougher for laid-off workers to find other jobs, said Matt Kramer, president of the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce.

And it’s not just the hospitality industry. Greg McLeod of Innovative Office Solutions, which supplies the Wild with products and services, said business is down 25 to 30 percent from what it was at this time last year.

Word from the players’ union Thursday that an agreement on dollar figures had been reached raised hopes that the lockout was finally over. “We were pretty fired up,” McLeod said.

Then those hopes were dashed when the NHL rejected the players’ proposal. “All of a sudden they pulled the rug out,” Geisen said.

Sakura, which Omori has owned since 1990, has become a favorite of Wild players as well as fans. Omori also caters four to five dinners for the Wild at the arena every year.

“She may have the only restaurant in the world that has menu items named after NHL players,” Coleman said.

Omori is suffering from a double whammy that includes the shutdown of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, whose fall season at nearby Ordway Center has been canceled over another labor dispute.

“If things get any worse, I’m going to have to get more members of my family to work,” Omori said.

To contact the SBA, call 612-370-2324.