Gotta cash ’em all: Downtown SJ business owners discuss ‘Pokemon Go’ impact

The I Love St. Joe store in downtown St. Joseph is among area businesses taking advantage of the Pokemon Go craze. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

The I Love St. Joe store in downtown St. Joseph is among area businesses taking advantage of the Pokemon Go craze. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH — It’s been nearly two months since Pokemon Go catapulted to popularity, but hundreds of users can still be seen walking throughout town.

Many business owners in downtown St. Joseph have taken notice of this.

Pokemon, which was first known as a trading card game in the 1990s, has found its resurgence through a mobile app that allows players to throw virtual balls to capture “pocket monsters.”

The game uses a phone’s GPS to detect where a player is in the game. As a person moves around, different types of Pokemon appear in the mobile game. Players can walk to local landmarks and various businesses, known as “Pokestops” in the game, to gather supplies and other items.

There are dozens of these Pokestops sprinkled through downtown St. Joseph among businesses and statues. Several business owners say this has added a boost to foot traffic during an already busy tourist season.

As a result, businesses are trying to cash in on the game’s mobile aspect.

Austin Bock, owner of Bound for Freedom, is a fan of the game. For the first month Pokemon Go had become popular, Bock put a sign in the front of his store stating they were a Pokestop.

“We had two of the (Poke)stops situated perfectly outside,” Bock said. “Both were accessible when you were inside the store. We used that to our advantage.”

Bock placed several phone chargers in the back for people to come and charge their phones. He gave out water and allowed others to use his air conditioning when there was 90-degree weather.

He said people would come and hang out for a while based on his shop’s proximity to Pokestops.

Throughout July, Bock would give people 20 percent off purchased items for setting a lure at one of the Pokestops. A lure is an item users can set that attracts more Pokemon to a certain area.

He also gave a 10 percent discount to anybody who was playing while in his store.

“We bought some Pokemon buttons and stickers that kids could buy for purchase,” Bock said. “It was cool because the kids would bring their parents in and save money in the process. We had people come in who have never been before. We encouraged the game and allowed people to benefit from it.”

At 219 State St., I Love St. Joe put out mannequins that wore Pokemon Go shirts.

Keren Morhaim, manager of I Love St. Joe, said the shirts have become a coveted item since the store began offering them in July. She said they got the idea to sell them based on how many people came into their store trying to catch Pokemon.

“They’ve been selling pretty well. People of all ages have been buying them. There have been kids and grandmas,” Morhaim said. “We tend to put the stuff that sells the most out front.”

Whitney Behnke, executive director of St. Joseph Today, has noticed people walking around with their phones in hand.

She said it’s not just been kids, but their parents as well. At St. Joseph Today’s welcome center, Behnke said they get questions from users of the mobile app.

“I was shown how to play it so I could talk to them about it,” she said. “We have seen more people downtown this year. I don’t know if it’s because of the game or what, but you notice them walking around with their phones up.

“It helps that the downtown has a lot of Pokestops. There’s too many to count. It’s on every corner of every block.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Sept. 7, 2016)
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