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'A sea of Walleye jerseys' | Kelly Cup playoff games bringing in big crowds, business for downtown Toledo

The Swamp Shop says this has been its best merchandise sales season ever.

TOLEDO, Ohio — On Friday, the Toledo Walleye begin the next round of their playoff run, facing off against the Utah Grizzlies in the conference finals of the Kelly Cup Playoffs.

Huntington Center representatives said these playoff games are bringing 8-to-9,000 people into downtown; a huge audience for the Huntington Center.

And the Walleye's hot streak means a lot more than just ticket sales.

Craig Katz is the director of merchandising for the Swamp Shop. He said in the 19 years of working there, the business he's seeing is unprecedented.

"I would say, very much so, this is the busiest we've ever had. It's the highest sales year ever, we've run more transactions this year than ever before," Katz said.

Katz said it's not just due to the Walleye's fantastic season either. Fans are hungry for hockey after missing a year due to COVID-19.

T-shirts, hats, mugs...Katz said it's all flying off the shelves.

"We have eight to nine thousand people in the building, so obviously when they're in the building, they're gonna be buying a lot of Walleye product. So the farther the Walleye go on, it's definitely more financially beneficial," Katz said.

This momentum is bleeding into the surrounding bars and restaurants as well. Manager of the Durty Bird on South St. Clair Street, Kim McKnight, said the more home games, the better.

"It's a great uptick in business, we welcome not only obviously Walleye fans, but opposing team fans also," McKnight said. "We've had a few of those in today."

McKnight said on playoff days, the crowds start building around 3:30 p.m. for pre-gaming, and then stay packed until they close at 8 p.m. She says it's clear that Toledo and the surrounding communities are coming out in droves to support the Walleye.

"A sea of Walleye jerseys. Not only in here but walking around, it's nothing but blue and fish," said McKnight.

McKnight says when people come inside the bar, any team rivalries are left at the door and everyone just becomes hungry customers.

All of the managers say the further the Walleye go, the more fans they see at local businesses, so for multiple reasons tonight they hope the walleye have another excellent game.

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