'Pokémon Go' players pub crawl across Sacramento
Call it Pokémon gone.
More than a month after “Pokémon Go” set off a craze across the country, the smartphone game that allows people to “capture” the colorful critters appears to have tapered off in Sacramento.
The throngs of 1,500 people scouring Old Sacramento for rare water Pokémon late at night have dwindled in recent weeks, causing business owners to rethink the extended hours and promotions after initially riding the wave of the wildly popular game.
Once I caught a certain amount of Pokémon, it just seemed repetitive. Nothing new was added to the game to keep my interest.
Fernando Perez, 24, on his fading interest in “Pokémon Go”
“We’ve seen a turndown. It’s definitely tapered off,” said Dean Huitrado, owner of Railroad Fish and Chips in Old Sacramento.
Huitrado’s Front Street eatery saw sales double, as Pokémon players – teenagers and 20-somethings – descended on the riverfront district, ground zero for breeding the most pocket monsters in the region. The 600-square-foot restaurant extended its hours to 2:30 a.m., and Huitrado quickly hired four new staffers.
“It was just insane,” he said. “We were getting clobbered.”
Around 10:30 p.m. each night, “that’s when the momentum was starting to stir,” Huitrado said. “Around 11:30 p.m., all of a sudden there would be 1,500 people out here.”
On Tuesday evening, about 100 players were spotted in Old Sacramento, and Huitrado closed shop at 11 p.m., citing the lack of customers.
Pokémon players interviewed say they’ve been playing less frequently in recent weeks, due to some unfavorable updates to the application, including one that made it harder to find the creatures. But for Fernando Perez, 24, of West Sacramento, the game has gotten plain old.
“Once I caught a certain amount of Pokémon, it just seemed repetitive. Nothing new was added to the game to keep my interest,” said Perez, a self-described fanatic who grew up on a diet of Pokémon cards and video games in the 1990s.
Perez, with girlfriend Desiree Rojas, 23, ended up leaving Old Sacramento at 9 p.m. Tuesday instead of staying until the wee hours.
Whether the hype continues depends on how the game evolves, according to Ira Kalb, assistant professor of clinical marketing at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business.
Kalb doesn’t think people will stop playing anytime soon since the game combines exercise and fun through augmented-reality – where players appear to be catching digital characters in real life. The application layers a digital world onto the real one, requiring participants to capture the monsters as they walk around historical attractions and other hot spots like parks and shopping malls.
“It’s filling a niche that no one else is filling right now,” Kalb said of “Pokémon Go,” which launched in the United States on July 6 and has since arrived in dozens of other nations.
According to Pokémon fans, Old Sacramento is the top destination in the region for playing the game, owing to the high density of historical attractions and proximity to the Sacramento River.
Brooksie Hughes, Old Sacramento district director for the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, said foot traffic initially spiked 98 percent on weekdays, particularly after 9 p.m.
The heavy presence of Pokémon players has even driven out some homeless campers, “due to so many visitors activating the space,” Hughes said.
Visions of Eden, a gift shop on J Street in the riverfront district, capitalized on the trend by adding Pokémon gear to its shelves. Foot traffic translated into sales, with overall revenue up 20 percent, according to owner Donna Tielsch.
But Tielsch noted that the number of players has slumped in the last two weeks. The groups of 50 people moving in unison on the sidewalk have turned into groups of five or six, she said.
“I’m not sure how long this trend is going to last,” she said. “We hope it continues, but I’m not counting on it.”
While some businesses have profited handsomely, the thick crowds have caused headaches for managers of the Delta King hotel, which itself is an attraction or Pokéstop.
The troubles begin at night, when guests of the steamship hotel struggle to get some shuteye amid the clatter of up to 500 “Pokémon Go” players hovering nearby on the dock.
“Apart from looking on their phones, they start yelling. Groups get separated. That’s problematic,” said Michael Coyne, general manager of the Delta King, adding that the hotel has become a “very popular bathroom location.”
Coyne has threatened to ask game-maker Niantic remove the Delta King from the register of Pokéstops. Management has also added a barrier to prevent players from coming aboard after 10 p.m. on weekdays.
“The demographic of Pokémon players is not really consistent with the demographic of the Delta King guest,” Coyne said, noting that revenue has taken a slight hit since the game’s launch.
Coyne has reason to believe this may be another summer fad. Early Sunday, he said, the crowds had dissipated significantly with about 120 people playing at 1:30 a.m.