ADVERTISEMENT

With the start of the hockey season on ice - after the NHL and the league's Players' Association failed to reach agreement over the weekend on a new contract - the Buffalo Sabres already are letting ticket holders know just what they can expect as a lockout rolls forward.

The disappointment was far-reaching, extending beyond the loyal fan base. Downtown bar and restaurant owners woke Sunday to the grim news of the NHL shutdown because of a labor dispute, knowing it spells a blow to their businesses. Many weathered the last league lockout in 2004-05 - one costing the league an entire season.

The start of the lockout is not what local bar owners - who depend on pre-game dinner and bar business - wanted to hear as they were beginning to ramp up for another season of hockey. Preseason NHL games were set to begin next weekend, with the start of the season on Oct. 11.

"I think it will have a huge impact," Cozumel Grill co-owner Robert DiPasquale said Sunday. "I'm very, very disappointed. There's so many businesses downtown that rely on the Sabres. We definitely rely on our sports. Everyone relies on the Buffalo Sabres. The city events are helpful, but this will make it really tough."

By DiPasquale's estimate, Cozumel - often loaded with fans dining in Sabres jerseys before and during games - stands to lose 20 to 30 percent of its revenues for every home game.

The tough economy has made it hard enough and after nearly 18 years in business, DiPasquale and his partner, Christian DiFiglia, both of whom started Cozumel when they were in their mid-20s, decided to put the Allentown institution on Elmwood Avenue up for sale about three weeks ago - partly because they want to move on and do something different.

"It's getting so hard, and then with the It makes me a little weaker. I'm very, very saddened by this," DiPasquale said.

Still, he said he will not close Cozumel's doors. The restaurant is currently lowering its prices and revamping its menu, returning to its old recipes.

The owner of The Place restaurant and bar, a fixture since 1941 in the Elmwood Village, has been doing extensive renovations - installing a new bar with a copper top, four large TVs and spiffing up the restaurant, which has been in his family since 1964. The barroom design was done with Sabres fans in mind - many who show up regularly to watch the games. Even the menu was changed for hockey and football seasons.

Over time, The Place, at Lexington and Ashland avenues, has become a local favorite to catch a hockey game and mingle. Owner Kenny Moriarity Sr. knows he's in for a substantial hit the longer the lockout continues.

"It really does hurt. If we lose 20 games and are locked out until Jan. 1, we never get an opportunity to make that money up," Moriarity said Sunday.

About 40 people patronize the bar area to watch each Sabres game, he said. Even though The Place is now attracting Buffalo Bills fans and benefited from the recent Curtain Up! gala, hockey is a major player.

"The hockey nights - home games or away - give us another 82 nights of business. Even if their games are at home, people have dinner before the game and they stop here after the game on their way home," Moriarity said.

Closer to First Niagara Center, the Malamute Tavern, at the corner of South Park Avenue and within walking distance of the arena, is no stranger to enduring a hockey lockout.

"It'll definitely hurt with no Sabres games. It's the second lockout we've been through," said Malamute owner Richard Pyszczek Sr.

The tavern, known for lunches, used to promote dinners during First Niagara Center events, but has stopped.

"We cut back because of the economy," he said. "I've been here 47 years. We'll get by somehow."

On Sunday, Sabres officials spelled out two options on the team's website to let fans know where they stand with tickets while hockey is on hold. Fans were offered two choices:

. Leave ticket payments intact and collect 4 percent interest.

. Get refunds for any games that end up being canceled because of the lockout.

email: krobinson@buffnews.com