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Mariners baseball is back, but SODO businesses still miss the fans

Businesses in Seattle's SODO neighborhood are struggling as Mariners baseball returns without fans.

SEATTLE — After months of coronavirus shutdowns, pro sports leagues are tentatively restarting seasons and returning to play without fans.

As the Mariners prepared for their home opener Friday, that meant a distinctly different atmosphere in Seattle’s SODO neighborhood – known for crowds of fans choking sidewalks and roads on gamedays. It’s a relatively muted celebration for the return of baseball – a far cry from 2019’s confetti, crowds, and live music. Instead, the Mariners installed a cardboard cutout "Seat Fleet" in the stands behind home plate.

Keeping fans away may be necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19, but it still presents a tough situation for the nearby businesses that rely on the traffic.

“Usually the Mariners’ opener is one of our best days of the year,” said Mike Morris, owner of Fuel sports bar in Pioneer Square. “45, 50,000 people going to the game.”

RELATED: A silent stadium: Mariners play without the cheering fans as baseball starts

Erin Goodman, of the SODO Business Improvement Area, expects others to be impacted too, though the group doesn’t commission formal economic studies.

“I can’t tell you exactly what it is, but we’re feeling it,” she said. “And we’re feeling it in a year when all of our businesses are having other major hits to their income. So this is just one more piece of the really hard economic year that is for all of our businesses.”

Visit Seattle also didn’t have a way to quantify the impact of fans in the area. But even without hard numbers, the loss of fans in the area has obvious ripple effects. Back in May, Pyramid Alehouse closed after decades of operation, citing difficulties with the "current environment."

And the Silver Cloud Hotel, right next to T-Mobile Park, said the home opener is usually prime time. They would expect to be full, but right now have an occupancy rate of only about 20%.

“We’re going to do the best we can and be ready to pivot once smart people wear a mask, wash their hands and social distance,” said Bill Weiss with the Silver Cloud. “Then we’ll be ready to welcome people back.”

He noted the lack of cruise ships (and the thousands of tourists they carry) is also depressing their business.

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Morris also expected tough economic times to come.

“At this point, it’s playing it day by day,” he said. “Hoping the virus goes away, that they’re able to find a cure, and everyone is able to follow the rules with masks and social distancing.”

So baseball may be back – though the wait continues for some of its greatest monetary impacts to return as well.

“This is a year of disappointments,” Goodman said. “And this is another one.”