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Old Posted Apr 2, 2007, 11:27 AM
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NY Times

Pre-Opening Day Jitters for Establishments That Live in Yankee Stadium’s Shadow

Outside his Yankee Eatery, Louie Dituri, in cap, supervises a frozen pizza delivery.

April 2, 2007

Louie Dituri stood in front of his restaurant, the Yankee Eatery, across River Avenue from Yankee Stadium, on Sunday and ran through a mental checklist of last-minute preparations. His guys were precooking several batches of their famous shish kebabs, and the fresh rolls he ordered were to be delivered this morning. The bar in the back of the place was loaded, and after five days of spring cleaning, each crack and crevice was spotless.

This section of the South Bronx was awakening, and there was nothing left for Mr. Dituri to do but wait for today, when the New York Yankees open their season at home against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Mr. Dituri’s business, like others along the River Avenue corridor, depends on Yankees baseball to survive.

His shop was filled with nervous energy: part excitement, part anxiety, part anticipation as employees waited for the first customers, the first baseball fans to walk into the Yankee Eatery and buy something, a sweet Italian sausage, a hamburger, anything.

“We’re only here when the Yankees are playing,” Mr. Dituri said. “So no baseball, no business. We wait all winter for this.” The shop is open only during Yankees home games, including playoffs.

Above River Avenue yesterday, the No. 4 train grumbled down its tracks, the grinding of metal on metal blending with street noise and workers there doing last-minute repairs before today’s stadium rush. “Wet paint” signs were staggered from the steel beams jutting down from the tracks, and shopkeepers checked and double-checked their supplies.

Inside the Ball Park Lanes and the adjoining Ball Park Sports Bar & Grill on River Avenue, workers hung last-minute advertisements for domestic beers as the manager, George Diamantis, stood behind the shoe rental counter and surveyed the job.

“When the season starts, more business, more customers,” Mr. Diamantis said tersely with an impatient grin. “What can I say? I’m excited to have the Yankees back.”

Mr. Diamantis said the business also made money by checking bags for stadiumgoers, who have been restricted since Sept. 11 from taking them into the stadium.

Business owners in the area agreed that opening day was one of the biggest business days of the year. Out-of-towners and homegrown baseball fans pack the area and spend their money in surrounding businesses.

But the owners also said that baseball fans could be a fickle bunch and that booms and slumps in business had as much to do with winning or losing as with which teams the Yankees were playing and when. A game versus the Boston Red Sox is always a big game; so are cross-city battles with the Mets. Low draws tend to be teams from the Midwest or those with bad records.

Others said the Bronx’s gritty or dangerous reputation kept some game attendees from shopping in the area at all.

The future for many shop owners on River Avenue is uncertain, with the new Yankee Stadium to open for the 2009 season. The new stadium, to be built next door, is expected to have a bolstered commercial space inside.

Many business owners fear that that commercial space will greatly hurt their ability to attract customers and that this season may be one of their last good ones.

The subway riders they have snagged for decades walking past the shops to the stadium will soon be dropped off right at the new stadium. And there will be bigger souvenir shops and places to eat inside.

But for Mr. Dituri, there is no time to look too far into the future when there are shish kebabs and sausage to grill.

He stood in front of his little shop and took a deep breath, enjoying what he said could be the last bit of calm and sanity he will experience between that very moment and the start of the season.
NEW YORK heals.

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