After the University of Kentucky men's basketball team celebrated its 2,000th win on Dec. 21, Kennedy Book Store on South Limestone celebrated, too. It had its best December in 60 years of sales.
"The big reason was the 2,000th win," General Manager Carol Behr said. "When the players put on the Nike shirt after the game, that's the one everyone wanted. We sold over 12,000 T-shirts of that one design," she said, adding that the store had never sold that many shirts of one design, not even Final Four T-shirts in 1996, 1997 and 1998.
"They were big, but this was unprecedented," she said.
The combination of the UK men's basketball team's 19-1 record and Coach John Calipari's contagious enthusiasm has produced winning results for many businesses in town.
There's a brisk business in many restaurants and pubs on game day. Shops that sell UK T-shirts and other memorabilia can't keep up with the demand. A woman who answered the telephone at T-shirt business Hands On Originals headquarters on Friday said she was sorry but, "I can't talk. I'm too busy."
Misty Carlisle, general manager of DeSha's restaurant in Victorian Square, said that at the end of January, "We're up 27 percent for the month over last year. It's absolutely amazing."
Across the street in Triangle Center, Jim Sawyer, owner of Sawyer's restaurant, said he had a "phenomenal" year last year, and "last week we passed what we did in January, 2009."
Sawyer attributed his record month to the winning basketball team, and some big events downtown in January, including the Drowsy Chaperone performances at the Opera House and two large mid-month conventions at the Lexington Center.
But there is no getting away from the impact of a 15 percent spike in business on UK game days, he said.
"The excitement for ball games is vastly higher this year," Sawyer said.
But does the excitement and all the T-shirts and meal sales have any lasting business impact? Probably not. Don Schumacher, executive director of the National Association of Sports Commissions, in Cincinnati, said what Lexington is experiencing is "economic activity."
"Economists will tell you when you see people go to a game, or go to a bar, that's not economic impact because that person was going to spend those dollars some other way in the market," he said. "You may see the sale of more UK merchandise, for sure, which is going to increase to the benefit of somebody. But you are not seeing large numbers of visitors coming into town."
By contrast, Schumacher said, the World Equestrian Games will probably have an "enormous economic impact on your community and all of Northern and Central Kentucky because that is new money coming in."
OK, but business owners are as pleased as most UK sports fans with what they're experiencing.
For example, Old Kentucky Chocolates has enjoyed a 10 percent increase in business over the past year at its downtown candy store. "People buy chocolates to take in and munch on during the game," said owner Don Hurt.
Large numbers of fans stroll through Shelia Bayes Fine Jewelry in the Lexington Center before heading to Rupp Arena.
"We're primarily a destination store," sales associate Rachael Kennedy said. "We really rely on games to draw people into our store. We've have had a lot of lookers, and that turns into prospective clients down the road."
The winning spirit has had a ripple effect beyond the immediate downtown area, too.
At Winchell's on Southland Drive people arrive three and four hours before game time to claim a table.
"We call it camping out," said Abe Lansdale, one of the owners. "From the first scrimmage, every seat and table has been filled when UK plays."
Though the recession hit retail businesses hard, David Spreitzer, owner of Campus Pub on Waller Avenue and Patchen Pub in Patchen Village said business is good when local teams do well: "I'll tell you, they saved my businesses."
And winning basketball has also created jobs, said Bill Owen, president and CEO of the Lexington Center.
"If you've got people attending games, buying T-shirts, drinking beer or Cokes or going out to eat, that creates jobs," he said, calling it "an economic output of activity."
There's been a positive impact on employment at Cat Fan-Attic at 1975 Harrodsburg Road, a minority-owned, wholesale and retail T-shirt company that sells UK shirts and other items. Last year, owner Lester Boyd's employees worked half days or some days not at all in January.
"This year everybody is working, doing some overtime, and we still can't keep up," he said. The difference is "tremendous."
Boyd created the Hoops for Haiti T-shirt worn during the recently televised telethon for Haiti earthquake victims. He said he has sold more than 8,000 shirts since the telethon and is donating 100 percent of the net profits to Hoops for Haiti.
Larry Bell, general manager of the Hyatt Regency next door to Rupp Arena, hired 15 people for game days. The employees are primarily working at the bars set up in the hotel lobby and at High Tops, the hotel sports bar.
"This has been great for hotel employees. It helped them buy Christmas presents, pay their rent," he said.
The excitement level that has come with UK basketball "translates in a very real business sense as value to the community," Bell said.