By Eric Moskowitz
Having spent the better part of a decade selling sausages in the shadow of Fenway Park's Green Monster, David Littlefield has seen some busy days. At his Sausage Guy cart on Lansdowne Street behind Boston's legendary ballfield, Littlefield feeds not just Red Sox ticket-holders, but the small crowds that often gather on the streets outside just to hear the cheers and catch the magic of Fenway.
Sure, the 1999 All-Star Game was big. And in Game Three of last year's American League Championship Series against the hated New York Yankees, a pitching duel between aces Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens, swarms of hungry fans flocked the Sausage Guy's way.
But the World Series has been, well, a whole new ballgame. "It's the biggest thing we've ever done here, for sure," says Littlefield, who sold twice as much bratwurst on the opening night of the Series on Oct. 23 as he normally does during a regular season game. "This place has just been teeming with really hungry people."
If you've never been to Fenway, it's a small stadium shoehorned into a city neighborhood, with restaurants, bars, and outdoor stands literally right outside the gates.
Littlefield is just one of many small-business people riding the Red Sox's playoff coattails. Talk of the championship has reached a fever pitch in Boston -- a city starved for a World Series win since the Wilson Administration. And while the Red Sox have the chance to wrap up a victory in St. Louis this week, the army of entrepreneurs basking in the glory wouldn't mind seeing the series return to Fenway for a couple more games.
Seems like an eternity, but just five years ago, the Red Sox circulated brochures about plans for a new stadium, arguing that cramped Fenway Park had become a relic, unable to generate the revenues necessary to fuel the team's competitiveness in a new era of baseball (see BW Online, 10/14/04, "Boston's Real Curse: The Yankees' Cash").
In 2002, a new ownership group led by global futures market guru John W. Henry paid a record $690 million for the franchise. Immediately, Henry & Co. searched for new ways to creatively squeeze revenue out of the Sox's 90-year-old home, including installing primo seats atop the famed Green Monster. Plus they shelled out big bucks a la George Steinbrenner for pitcher Curt Schilling and closer Keith Foulke, who have helped make this year's team arguably the best since the club sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees before the 1920 season -- spawning the now-legendary "Curse of the Bambino."
The new owners have also encouraged a festive atmosphere on the avenues adjacent to the park, much to the benefit of outdoor vendors and nearby establishments. It's all part of a plan to enhance the unique ballpark experience of Fenway. And suddenly, it seems like everyone wants to be, if not inside the park, at least near it.
"SAUSAGE GUY ELBOW."
Littlefield says the crowd outside never diminished during Games One and Two of the Series. "The joke was, 'does anybody here have a ticket?'" he says. After getting the grill warmed up by 11 a.m. for the opener, he kept the meat sizzling well past midnight -- enough to give him what he good-naturedly calls "Sausage Guy elbow." Business was so brisk, Littlefield had to delay for a day the opening of a new Sausage Guy restaurant close to FleetCenter, home to basketball's Boston Celtics.
He's not alone. The Souvenir Store is a cavernous landmark across from Fenway that began as a single pennant cart nearly 60 years ago. It's typically crowded in the hour before a game and especially packed in the rush after, when the fans flood out of Fenway en masse. But before Game Two, the store was jammed with customers by mid-afternoon. World Series-related items festooned a special section with a roped-off queue. And the store's Web site had to be shut down temporarily due to overwhelming demand.
Even nearby businesses that don't typically rely on the Sox have been catching the wave. Sophia's, on Boylston Street, is a Latin restaurant known mostly for its sangria and salsa dancing, not its proximity to Fenway. But a few hours before the start of Game Two on Oct. 24, management was busy preparing a buffet for the Fox Sports crew.
The World Series has even been a boon for traveling peddlers. Yahya Abduljami came up from Philadelphia with Abdul Quair to hawk official World Series programs. Abduljami says he has been selling programs at Major League Baseball's biggest events for more than a decade, moving about the country and working on commission.
Program sellers pay their own travel and lodging, Abduljami says, but they can take home as much as 40% of the $15 cover price. In one good hour, he can sell 500 programs -- with a little salesmanship, of course. Pacing back and forth in the crosswalk where Yawkey Way meets Brookline Avenue, Abduljami and Quair hawked programs together through call-and-response: "What's in your bag? Program! What's in your bag? Program!"
Regardless of whether the Sox finally break the curse, in a few days it'll be just another off-season for businesses that call Fenway home. But if all goes according to plan, for the first time in its 60-year history, The Souvenir Store will be ringing up the register with "World Champions" merchandise. Let the good times roll.
Moskowitz is a contributing writer for BusinessWeek Online
Edited by Rod Kurtz