Business & Real Estate

Sacramento businesses going with Pokémon craze

'Pokémon Go' craze hits Sacramento

Augmented-reality cell phone game "Pokémon Go" has taken America by storm, including Sacramento. Players and business owners talk about their experiences.
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Augmented-reality cell phone game "Pokémon Go" has taken America by storm, including Sacramento. Players and business owners talk about their experiences.

Sacramento shop proprietors might not know a Pikachu from a house cat, but some have figured out “Pokémon Go” is good for business.

“Not knowing what the hell it is, I’m a Pokémon fan,” said Bert Williamson, owner of O’Mally’s Irish Pub in Old Sacramento.

On Tuesday afternoon, a steady stream of customers played the augmented-reality phone game in between slurps of beer at O’Mally’s. Williamson said he’s seen a nice boost in business during a normally dull time of year, when people flock to the California State Fair instead of the riverfront historic district.

Pokémon Go,” the smartphone iteration of the classic hand-held video game, was released July 6 in the United States and became an instant sensation. The game layers a digital world onto the real one, requiring players to collect Pokémon creatures and other game pieces as they walk around, staring into their screens.

The flood of players could be seen as a nuisance or boon.

The game has rankled some including the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C., where officials said playing the cartoonish game at the memorial to war victims was inappropriate.

Late last week, a Wyoming woman discovered a dead body while searching for Pokémon. Closer to home, two Sacramento men told media outlets they were robbed and carjacked Sunday night while playing “Pokémon Go.”

The game should bring more good news than bad, said Peter Tateishi, president of the Sacramento Metro Chamber. He said the game is forcing players to explore their cities, and that’s good for business.

“It’s getting people out walking and moving around,” Tateishi said. “They are not sitting on their couch. They are getting out in the community.”

“Sure, they are searching for Pokémon,” but they’re also patronizing shops and restaurants, he said.

Mother and daughter Kelly and Meghan Conklin, of Roseville, were in Sacramento for a business meeting but stayed to hunt for Pokémon.

“There was a Pokéstop nearby, so we decided to stop and get some stuff,” said Meghan, 19. The app has enlightened them to new business establishments, she said.

“It’s taken me a little more walking around downtown Roseville, and we came across a cool vegan doughnut shop and extra places around town I didn’t know existed,” Meghan said.

Kelly Conklin, who sells Mary Kay cosmetics, said the game has encouraged her and her daughter to revisit areas they haven’t been to lately, including old town Roseville.

Sure they are searching for Pokémon, but in addition they are engaging their community.

Peter Tateishi, president and CEO of the Sacramento Metro Chamber

To make “Pokémon Go,” game-maker Niantic placed digital hot spots at landmarks, public spaces and some businesses. It’s unclear whether any businesses were told in advance.

Being part of a popular augmented-reality game can boost business to such an extent that some businesses are willing to pay to take part. Businesses paid to be featured locations in Niantic’s first augmented-reality game, Ingress. The same could happen with Pokémon, company officials have said.

The Pokémon effect is on display at the Safeway on 19th Street in midtown Sacramento. Linger by the chrome horse statue near the store’s entrance, and you’ll see person after person staring at their phone screens engaged in single-finger combat.

Within the span of several minutes Tuesday, Andrew Brito, Casey Perkins and Joel Douglas all opened Pokémon outside the grocery store to do digital battle. Two had just finished shopping; the other had dropped off his girlfriend at work.

At the John Ellis & Son auto shop in midtown, employee Lee Hien was taken by surprise when a group of twenty-somethings greeted him outside the garage.

“I said, ‘What in the world is going on?’ and (one guy) said, ‘We’re playing a game.’ ” Hien said. “I’ve seen people all day long sitting on the sidewalk.”

Manager Miguel Frias said he and his employees were still trying to understand the game but weren’t bothered by the younger crowds.

“You’re gonna have traffic no matter what,” he said, nodding to the busy street.

Local coffee shop Temple Coffee Roasters is looking to make its cafe a sponsored location, said marketing director Cole Cuchna.

“It’ll show that we’re relevant and know what’s going on,” Cuchna said. “People seem to be having a lot of fun and we’d like to create that atmosphere here.”

At least one Sacramento group is planning a “Pokécrawl,” a pub crawl with Pokémon. About 1,000 people have indicated on Facebook they plan to attend a July 23 Pokécrawl through midtown Sacramento.

Williamson said O’Mally’s is planning on removing its arcade-style Big Game Hunter video game and installing a Pokémon-themed charging station to encourage more people to enjoy food and drink in between bouts of “Pokémon Go.”

He said Monday was more like a Saturday, thanks to all the Pokémon players. His bartender said as many as 30 people came in while playing the game.

“To bring 30 people to a small place like this is big,” Williamson said. “I asked my bartender, ‘What the hell is going on?’ 

Ed Fletcher: 916-321-1269, @NewsFletch

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