The Pucks Start Here
Seems no entity is immune to the usual Syracuse doom and gloom, not even a sports team that gives us a reason to leave the house on a cold winter night. Other teams have succumbed to the fail culture. But not the Syracuse Crunch, which, with this 18th season, has established itself as the hockey franchise to beat locally. The Syracuse Stars and Syracuse Blazers both enjoyed 10 years in business here; the other five local teams weren’t so successful. A big reason is they didn’t have owner Howard Dolgon and his promotions acumen.
“When we came to town we heard time and again that Syracuse is a hockey graveyard,” he said. “We were on a clock, it seemed. But once we got past years five and six, people were finally convinced that this was going to be a long-term thing here. This town has a lot of doubt ers, a lot of skepticism. But I tell folks, we’ve got a lot of room on the bandwagon and you can hop on any time you want.
“What I have found interesting in this market is that people perceive this as a community team, although we’re not,” Dolgon added. “They feel that sense of ownership that kicked in around year three. It’s the best thing that could happen. Our fan base felt they had some blood in the game, they felt connected to the team. It was a crucial moment: It proved there was a great passion for the team. It’s a significant place to get to.”
Fans can once again exhibit that passion starting Saturday, Oct. 15, 7:30 p.m., with the 2011-2012 American Hockey League season opener against the Adirondack Phantoms. And you can’t use Syracuse University football as an excuse to stay away, either, because the Orangemen have a bye week. Tickets cost $14 to $18, $14 if you’re 12 and younger. Purchase them at the Onondaga County War Memorial box office, 515 Montgomery St., online at syracusecrunch.com or by calling 435-2121.
Part of the reason the Crunch has been so popular with its fan base is that Dolgon has no problem being silly; he loves goofy promotions. For instance, after pop tart Britney Spears had her public meltdown in 2007, including shaving her head, the Crunch invited her on an all-expenses paid trip to the Salt City and further offered any shorn woman a free ticket to the Feb. 24 game.
In another instance of a pop star run amok, Christina Aguilera famously botched the national anthem at Super Bowl XLV on Feb. 6, 2011. Dolgon invited her to Syracuse to get it right; uh, she didn’t come. “In the Christina Aguilera case, it was all about redemption,” he said.
This year’s opening night celebrations include appearances by the winner of last year’s The Biggest Loser reality television show, Olivia Ward, and her runnerup sister Hannah Curlee. “These people wouldn’t have been celebrities 10 years ago,” Dolgon related, “but in this era of reality TV, ratings for that show are huge. We’re giving fans something they want. We are a minor-league team, but we don’t think like a minor-league team. That’s why our fan base has remained loyal: They know we work for them. I have to answer to the fans.”
Promotions aside, Dolgon also knows that Syracuse fans want, and deserve, a winning ice hockey team. To that end, the team’s affiliation with a National Hockey League team changed four years ago, when the Crunch realigned with the Anaheim Ducks instead of staying with the Columbus Blue Jackets “There are 30 teams in our league, and 30 teams in the NHL,” Dolgon said. “There is often a change in partners because people in management change at both levels. This is very much a relationship business. We were with Columbus for 10 years, and very close for eight of those years. When their general manager got fired, the relationship wasn’t as close as it had been. With their philosophy toward the minor leagues it was not going to be prudent for us to get the kind of talent we needed. It was a difficult call to make, but we have to make the call that’s going to get the best team on the ice.”
Syracuse has seen its share of quality hockey. Hockey in Syracuse (Arcadia Publishing, 2005) retells the history of the eight professional teams that have iced it up here since the Syracuse Stars, who won the first Calder Cup ever awarded, from 1930 to 1940. Others include the Warriors (1951 to 1954), the Braves (1962 to 1963), the Blazers (1967 to 1977), the Eagles (1974 to 1975), the Firebirds (1979 to 1980) and the Hornets (1980 to 1981). The void lasted until 1994 when the Crunch rolled in.
The public is invited to meet the players (and perhaps even shake the paw of Al, the ever-loving Ice Gorilla) on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., with a Fan Fest. The ice will be open for skating as well. “We have a week off before the season begins,” Dolgon noted, “and I thought it would be a great way for the fans to meet the new players and skate on the ice the players skate on.” The Fan Fest is free.
After the niceties, it’ll be time for the Crunch to get back to work. And there is work to do. The team finished in sixth place in the East Division, 11th place in the Eastern Conference and 25th overall in the AHL last year. Furthermore, hockey season is notoriously long—78 games over six months in the regular season. Dolgon strives to make sure the games are worth fans’ time and money.
“The product on the ice is always going to be there,” Dolgon concluded. “The staff isn’t going out, scoring a goal, getting into a fight. We can’t control that. The one thing our fans come to see is a hockey game. When I have you in my building for three hours, you’re captive. What can I do to make sure that when you leave you will come back?” —Molly English-BowersTattoo Blues
Patrick Kitzel sits in his Marshall Street office. The whirring of needles and friendly chatter waft in from the tattoo shop just outside his door. Kitzel is the business manager of Halo Tattoo, Syracuse’s long-running tattoo shop. He thumbs through a stack of envelopes on his desk that signal the recent foreclosure of the emporium’s Erie Boulevard East location.
The foreclosure came as a shock given Halo Tattoo’s reputation among Syracuse’s small businesses. They provide a safe and friendly environment for an assortment of clientele. They don’t tattoo minors, or do facial or hand tattoos. “It’s that stuff who makes us who we are and we take pride in it,” said Kitzel.
Owners DJ Rose and Ron Perry founded the business in 1997. Originally located in the South Crouse Avenue alley between Dunkin’ Donuts and Faegen’s Café and Pub, Halo Tattoo moved to the roomier and more visible 171 Marshall St. location in 2002. The booming business opened additional shops in Liverpool in 2001 and on Erie Boulevard in 2006.
“People know we’re not a fly-by-night tattoo shop,” said Kitzel, who has been with the business more than 10 years.
“Lots of tattoo shops open one year, close the next, change names to get out of billings and whatnot. Fourteen years is a long time to be in business.” Now Halo Tattoo is struggling financially after a water main break temporarily shut down the Marshall Street location in January. Additionally, the Erie Boulevard shop closed permanently in August due to foreclosure.
When Kitzel arrived at work on Jan. 21, he was greeted by a burst water pipe flooding Marshall Street. Although the tattoo shop on the second floor suffered no physical damage, eight feet of water crumbled two basement walls in the building’s foundation. City officials shut the building down for repairs, which lasted until the end of May. Other Marshall St. businesses affected by the flooding were J. Michael Shoes, Acropolis Pizza House, Starbucks and a storage business.
The Marshall Street closure was a huge blow to Halo, since 80 percent of their business comes from Syracuse University students who tend to walk in out of curiosity. Halo Tattoo lost five months’ worth of student clientele before the shop reopened May 22. “Students aren’t going to get bored in between classes and drive to Liverpool,” noted Kitzel. “They wouldn’t even drive to Erie Boulevard because it’s out of the way.”
Then in April, Kitzel received a foreclosure notice from the bank regarding the shop at 3350 Erie Blvd. E., DeWitt. The stack of papers that arrived on his desk informed him that the landlord, John Larca, had not paid the mortgage in 18 months. In the months previous, Kitzel said, the landlord had encouraged Halo Tattoo to sign a lease for the new year. It’s normal to wait a little bit for paperwork to arrive, but Kitzel was surprised to see a foreclosure notice.
Halo Tattoo had never missed a rent payment at the Erie Boulevard shop and had a good relationship with Larca, who could not be reached for comment. “Even after receiving the notice we thought ‘that’s why he hasn’t sent us a new lease; he doesn’t know what’s going on,’” said Kitzel.
Halo Tattoo’s lawyer, Michael Kawa, contacted the bank following the confusion. The bank intended to move forward with the foreclosure and the shop was shut down in August. “It’s five years down the drain,” said Kitzel when asked about the foreclosure’s effects on the business.
The DeWitt shop was intended to accommodate Halo Tattoo’s increased number of clients. Although the Marshall Street location is back up and running, two locations are not enough to accommodate all its employees. Two tattoo artists were let go shortly after the foreclosure.
It’s been a rough year, but Halo Tattoo isn’t going anywhere. They hope to again operate three locations. Kitzel has been looking for a building that is large enough on Erie Boulevard East, but hasn’t had any luck. “We definitely lost a great spot in the heart of Syracuse,” he said. “We did business right and got screwed out of clientele at a great location.”