Dunedin’s business owners gleeful over baseball’s return

A group of Atlanta Braves fans, sporting the team’s jerseys and caps, were walking along Dunedin’s Douglas Avenue about two hours before their team played the Toronto Blue Jays.

One of the fans was overheard saying that he arrived from North Port, home of the Braves’ spring training complex, and was looking forward to spending a three-day baseball weekend in Dunedin.

That fan’s weekend plans would have put a smile on the faces of local business owners. In fact, a number of proprietors have noticed an uptick in business thanks in large part to having regular season baseball in the town of 36,000.

Due to the Canadian government restricting cross-border travel during the pandemic, the Blue Jays have been playing home games at TD Ballpark. They have one homestand remaining in Dunedin before moving to Buffalo, home of their top minor-league affiliate, with the hope they can eventually return to Toronto.

Though attendance has been capped at about 1,600, in the 8,500-seat venue which serves as the Blue Jays’ spring training home, many of those who attended games through the first two homestands spent time and money elsewhere in Dunedin.

“We have had a lot of positive feedback from businesses indicating that foot traffic is up,” says city commissioner Maureen Freaney. “We are certainly seeing out-of-state license plates, and many are here for the baseball games.”

During the first two homestands, the Blue Jays played the Angels, Yankees, Nationals and Braves. While the team has a deep-rooted local following, that dates to its inaugural season of 1977, there are plenty of fans in town rooting for the visitors.

Many of those fans have also made their way to the local establishments, including Home Plate restaurant. Home Plate is located about, well, a couple of hundred feet from home plate. The eatery is directly across Douglas from the ballpark.

“We get a lot of fans of the visiting teams,” says Ralph Kleinschrod, who purchased the restaurant with his wife, Monika, in October 2020. “We had a lot of Atlanta and Washington fans who came to Dunedin when those teams played here.”

Home Plate, which serves breakfast and lunch, has a beer garden in the backyard that practically abuts the Pinellas Trail. The outdoor area is a popular spot.

“We are doing really well with baseball fans and many other visitors,” says Ralph, who notes he and Monika have become permanent Dunedin residents since purchasing the restaurant. The couple used to arrive from Germany to spend the winter months.

Speaking of beer, Dunedin is a craft beer mecca, of sorts, with its eight micro-breweries. Dunedin Brewery, the oldest microbrewery in the Sunshine State, is a one mile walk north of the ballpark along Douglas. The brewery, which is also a restaurant, has served its share of baseball fans.

“The games have brought a lot of people walking around town,” says owner Michael Norman Bryant, who founded the establishment in 1995. “There’s a lot more activity. It is not crowded, but it’s busy. It has been that way since the start of the season. Having the Blue Jays here has provided a sense of normality.”

Normality is underscored by the foot traffic Freaney and Bryant have observed. When Freaney makes her way around town, she often does so wearing a Blue Jays jersey. Even those who do not know her comment to her about how refreshing it is to have the team in town for an extended stay.

“There is an excitement in the air that you can’t measure or calculate, but it is something that people feel,” she says.

Restaurateurs Zachary and Christina Feinstein own the Black Pearl and the Living Room, both of which are on Main Street. They also own the Sonder Social Club on Douglas, across from Dunedin Brewery.

The couple has noticed more and more out-of-towners visiting their establishments.

“In addition to many Blue Jays fans, I am seeing more people at the bars with Yankees jerseys, or a jersey of whatever team is playing the Jays,” said Zachary. “I think a lot of it is because some states are still, mostly, shut down and those fans are coming to Florida to watch baseball.”

While he noted many fans who live in the bay area are making the drive to Dunedin to take in a game, those coming from outside the region have had a welcome impact on business.

“I would say we are seeing a lot more people from out of town than we typically would at the end of April and early May,” says Feinstein. “They are coming for the game and going out afterwards. We are definitely fortunate.”

The good fortune, at least as it pertains to business generated by the Blue Jays, will continue in Dunedin a little longer. The team will be back in town May 14 to begin its final homestand at TD Ballpark. The 10-game homestand consists of three games against the Phillies, who conduct spring training in neighboring Clearwater, three games against the Boston Red Sox and four games against a familiar team … the Tampa Bay Rays.

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