Features, News

How N.J. businesses are benefiting from Pokémon Go craze

Monday nights are usually among the slowest at Positano Restaurant in Wayne. But when a Pokémon suddenly showed up on the counter of the pizzeria — or, to be precise, the new Pokémon Go app generated a character in the restaurant that players could see on their phones — the staff of Positano decided to share the news on the restaurant’s Facebook page.

Within an hour, owner Joe Catalano said there were “car loads of people” flooding the restaurant.

“They said, ‘We’re here for Pokémon!’ We didn’t tell them they had to stay and buy food, but many of them did,” Catalano said. Before the night was over, the restaurant ended up posting some of its highest sales for a Monday in recent memory.

For those who have spent the last few days in deep hibernation, Pokémon Go is a geolocation-based game whose popularity has quickly swept the nation. Since its release last week, Nintendo (which owns Pokémon) has seen its stock price soar and according to Rolling Stone, the app is set to overtake social media giant Twitter in the next few days, in terms of user engagement. Niantic, the creators of the app, hasn’t released official usage numbers.

The app has been criticized for everything from creating public safety hazards to invading users’ privacy to encouraging tasteless behavior (the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. had to issue a stern warning to visitors to stop playing the game inside the building).

But at least in New Jersey, there also appears to be an unexpected upside to the craze. Businesses that have been declared “Pokéstops” or Pokémon gyms have seen rising sales and a sudden influx of new patrons. Even traditionally august institutions, such as museums, are trying to piggyback on Pokémon Go and use its success to boost their own admissions.

For Positano in Wayne, the restaurant just happens to be located in the the Point View Shopping Center, whose clock tower is one of the app’s Pokéstops, places where Pokémon players can find “loot,” like Pokéballs and medicine. The stops, like the clock tower, are determined by Niantic’s portal database for Ingress, a massive, location-based online game.

The result was a modest economic windfall that Positano owner Catalano never could have anticipated.

“On a Monday at 7 p.m., we don’t usually sell a lot of slices,” he said. “But (this) night, we did.”

(One of Catalano’s deliverymen also had an encounter with Poké-mania — he was stopped by a group of kids playing the game who told him there was a Pokémon in his car and they wanted to catch it.)

An angry Bulbasaur tries to evade capture. (Sydney Shaw)

The pizzeria isn’t the only New Jersey business that’s seen an uptick in sales.

Sam’s Bagel and Deli in Wayne has seen an increase of younger patrons since the game’s release on July 6. That restaurant isn’t a Pokéstop, but the community center just around the corner is.

“We’ve got high school kids coming in and out of here like crazy, holding their phones up trying to catch Pokémon,” server Jan Carlos said. “The place has been packed with them. It’s honestly been awesome.”

At the Jersey Shore, store workers also reported seeing particularly intense Poké-action — though couldn’t necessarily say if it was impacting their bottom lines.

“Since it seems to be determined by areas of high traffic, the entire shore is packed with Pokéstops,” said an employee answering the phone at The Chicken or The Egg in Beach Haven, who asked not to be identified. “We see a lot of people playing here, but it’s hard to measure if the game is bringing in more customers, since we’re always so busy anyway.”

Given the elusive nature of how the Pokéstops are determined — Niantic hasn’t fully explained exactly how the algorithms work — it’s often just a matter of luck which restaurants and stores end up reaping the benefits of being located near the Pokéstops. But that hasn’t stopped some organizations from trying to take advantage of the popularity of the trend.

House of Independents, a live entertainment venue in Asbury Park, is a Pokéstop, news of which the venue’s promoter shared on Facebook Monday.

Meanwhile, Montclair Art Museum posted on Facebook Wednesday morning that one of its outdoor exhibits, Allan Houser’s “Earth Mother,” is a Pokéstop.

“I got the idea to check out the game because I read an article about how it uses landmarks and historic sites as Pokéstops,” MAM Marketing and Communications Manager Catherine Mastrangelo said. “I found out that not only is our statue a Pokéstop, but the museum itself is a Pokémon gym.”

(Gyms are rarer than Pokéstops and serve as locations where trainers can battle their Pokémon against another team’s Pokémon. If this doesn’t make sense to you, consult your children.)

While Mastrangelo hasn’t yet noticed anyone visiting the museum specifically to catch Pokémon or go up against other trainers, she’s hopeful her post will have an impact on the museum’s attendance.

“It’s a cool way to engage with this phenomenon,” she said.

This story originally appeared on NJ.com.

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