It’s just after 1 p.m. on Friday outside Sloan Park, the spring home of the Chicago Cubs.
The area should be buzzing with activity as thousands of fans head into the ballpark to watch the Cubs take on the San Francisco Giants. But the streets are uncharacteristically empty.
Across the ballpark at the corner of Clark Street and Rio Salado Parkway sits Clark Street Sports, a business that normally has high traffic from fans buying merchandise. But on this day, the stand has just a trickle of fans after Major League Baseball canceled the remainder of spring training and pushed back the start of the regular season due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“Normally there is 15,000 people going to a game outside of Sloan, and even during an off-day, there’s hundreds of thousands of people,” said Jason Caref, part-owner of Clark Street Sports. “It has impacted (us), as most if not all of those (fans) have canceled (their spring training trips).”
Clark Street Sports, which operates a brick and mortar store outside Wrigley Field in Chicago, along with some pop-up trailers similar to the one outside Sloan Park, has been coming to Arizona for spring training since 2009.
Caref said they typically stay in Arizona for six weeks and then pack up and head back to Chicago for the regular season. He added that even though spring training has been canceled, they have continued to operate as best they can, but admits he’s not sure what the future will hold with the virus outbreak.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I think we are going to leave the trailers in Arizona somewhere and see if they are going to bring back spring training here or at another time. Or we will just take them back to Chicago.”
However, heading back home to Chicago also got a little trickier Friday when Illinois Gov. J.B Pritzker announced a stay-at-home order for the entire state, joining California and New York with similar orders.
Caref didn’t give a dollar figure on how much money he’s lost due to the cancellation of spring training.
In addition to selling Cubs merchandise, Caref also sells Bulls and Bears gear, as well as general Chicago tourist items.
“If we don’t get this SBA (Small Business Administration) loan, we’re out of business,” he said. “There is no way we can stay aloft. There is very, very little revenue. The only revenue that is coming in is from the web sales. But with all the leagues shut down, that’s not on people’s mind right now, ‘Oh I better buy a Cubs or a Blackhawks T-shirt.’
“I think if we were selling Cubs toilet paper or hand sanitizer, we would be doing much better. This is not a necessity. Our business is like a million of other businesses; we’re in big trouble.”
Despite the bleak forecast for his business, Caref is optimistic. He’s grateful that his family is healthy and safe, and he’s hoping the virus will be contained sooner rather than later.
When it is contained, thousands of fans will return to Sloan Park. And Caref will have his trailers parked on the corner of Clark Street and Rio Salado Parkway selling Cubs merchandise, including the popular white flags with a blue “W” that signify a Cubs win.
“We will see how this plays out,” he said. “It’s so early in the process. Because I think optimistically, I think people are going to be needing baseball when this clears up, and our business will be just fine. We will see how long this lasts and how devastating it is before [sports returns].”