- Associated Press - Saturday, November 14, 2015

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Two hours before kickoff, Buzzard Billy’s was warm with red-clad customers drinking, eating and laughing as waiters and waitresses maneuvered among them.

Kim Ringo-Bright, the Haymarket bar and grill’s general manager since May 2000, hugged friends arriving at the restaurant, took down names and joked with regulars waiting 15 to 30 minutes for a table.

The thing is, she said, “No one should be able to walk up and talk to me like this.”

The Lincoln Journal Star (https://bit.ly/1iWTRBV ) reports that two hours before one of the biggest home games of the season, Ringo-Bright said, she shouldn’t have time to even look up. And in previous seasons, a normal game-day wait would be 2 hours.

Things picked up later on, but the restaurant still fell about 20 percent below expectations.

Things may be changing after that night’s surprise, last-minute victory, but for Ringo-Bright and others in the Haymarket, that morning was indicative of a game-day economy that had lost steam alongside the Huskers’ accumulated game losses.

It was the same worry for Best of Big Red operations manager Kelsey Peterson. The Husker apparel store was seeing good sales in the hours just before the game’s kickoff, but the weekdays leading up to it were a different story.

“We’re down,” Peterson said.

In the week leading up to the Michigan State game, she said, Best of Big Red saw few customers before the game. Business revenue was 15 percent below where it should be at this point in the season, she said.

In anticipation of 2016, Peterson said, she was buying fewer Husker shirts, visors and koozies.

Among Husker apparel retailers from Omaha to Wyoming, Peterson said, she’s hearing the same thing. So the idea that Husker fans will always flock to Lincoln and put money into the game-day economy despite the lack of a winning record doesn’t hold much weight.

“You’ll hear people say Husker fans will come no matter what,” Peterson said. “They’ve proven that’s not true.”

Of course, Memorial Stadium was a different story. For the 6 p.m. kickoff against Michigan State, the stadium was once again at capacity — just as it’s been for every game since 1962.

Clearly, Husker football is still an experience.

And not all business owners agreed that the disappointing field results had left red ink marks on balance sheets.

Danielle Skarp, a manager at LeadBelly, said there hasn’t been a game yet where the Haymarket restaurant has fallen below expectations.

It was the same for Tyler Papa, a manager at McFarland & Son’s Irish Pub, now in its second year. Fans have just accepted this reality of Husker football, he said.

“I think Nebraska fans have gotten over the fact that we’re going to lose or that the season won’t turn out the way they want it to,” Papa said.

Patti Manglitz, general manager of the downtown Misty’s location, said whether the Huskers win or lose, people still come there for a burger and a beer.

If anything, she expected the game against Michigan State might result in a dip because it was a night game, eliminating the later dinner rush.

Business at Misty’s, Manglitz said, doesn’t waver because of its a patron tradition.

“We see a lot of the same guests in here week after week, year after year,” Manglitz said.

And there’s always an opportunity for the team to bounce back, she said, one of the few still hanging onto optimism before the game.

If the Huskers can beat Rutgers on the road next week, the buzz would be considerable for Nebraska’s game against Iowa at Memorial Stadium on Nov. 27.

The best thing to do right now as a business owner or a fan, Ringo-Bright said, is stay optimistic.

“You got to keep the faith,” she said.

___

Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, https://www.journalstar.com

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