‘Sales have plummeted’; Pullman businesses struggling amid fall sports announcement

PULLMAN, Wash. — For a college town like Pullman, the local economy thrives off events from Washington State University, especially Cougar football weekends. Without it, local businesses are facing hard times after an already stressful spring and summer without students.

It seems as if Pullman businesses can’t catch a break this year. During the spring, they lost the WSU students on-campus when the university sent everyone home because of COVID-19. They won’t expect that crowd to come back in the fall since WSU is going online. Now, the loss of Cougar football and other sports in the fall.

Taking a cold, hard look at the reality of Washington State football in August, it looks completely different than in years past. You have a scoreboard that won’t be needed this fall, an empty Rogers Field, and a lonely Martin Stadium.

“We’ve gone from seven games that will be here at home. A lot of the businesses already counted on that. They’re putting their portfolio, their money together, saying this is what we have this year. They counted those seven games. Which then went to five games,” said Mayor Glenn Johnson, City of Pullman.

Which then went to zero games. For now, at least.

“It’s going to be lonely, to be honest with you,” Mayor Johnson said.

No games, means no people to visit Pullman.

“It’s been tough. It’s been tough. We’ve definitely had some good days and very hopeful days that there is some people out there in Pullman to support us. But, overall, I would be lying to you if I didn’t say it has not been that fun,” said Jim Harbour, a co-owner of Round Top Public House and South Fork Public House.

Being a Pullman restaurant, your business model revolves around the crowds that visit the Palouse. Without football, you lose a large amount of customers in the fall.

“We don’t have all the people coming to tee off on Thursday, Friday and Saturday,” Harbour said. “That buzz from the RV park that is just a hop, skip and a jump is not wandering up here to see some beautiful views and have some drinks.”

Harbour also runs a catering business, and about one-third of that business happens over the football weekends

“Sales have plummeted. Without football coming, if that is the case, even if it’s 20% capacity – that is a huge deal,” Harbour said.

It’s not just football on the brain for Pullman business owners.

“Football follows women’s soccer, women’s volleyball, those people coming in for those games as well. Putting all that on hold is definitely going to be detrimental to our entire local economy,” Harbour said.

No one knows what will happen in the spring, they’re just keeping a positive mindset until then.

“To announce Cougar football, you’ve got to be flexible. You also are an optimist, because you know – even if you lose, you’re going to win the next week,” Mayor Johnson said.

We’ll have to wait and see how the spring turns out for Pac-12 football and other sports. For now, Pullman businesses are trying their best to survive, just like everyone else right now. They’re changing the way they do business to help bring in some profit until they can get visitors back to the Palouse.

A website has been set up with links and information to make it easier for folks to support local. Click here to learn more. 

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