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In 1st Year, MGM Springfield Has Little Impact On Most Neighborhood Businesses04:54
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The MGM Springfield casino is seen on Aug. 15, 2018, just before it opened to the public. (Charles Krupa/AP)
The MGM Springfield casino is seen on Aug. 15, 2018, just before it opened to the public. (Charles Krupa/AP)

As the MGM Springfield casino in Springfield was under construction a few years ago, several local retailers and restaurants said they got a lot of new business.

But now — a year after it opened — not so much.

'They Have Spread Their Wealth'

One hot July day, Jason and Lori Czech made their third visit to the casino from their home in Sturbridge.

“We wouldn’t come to Springfield [for] really anything else other than the casino,” Lori Czech said.

Jason Czech said that so far, they’ve eaten mostly inside the casino.

“They got a couple of good restaurants in there,” he said. “There’s a steak place, which is really expensive in there, that we won’t eat at.”

They've tried to eat at a well-known pizzeria next to the casino.

“Red Rose, yeah. We tried to come a couple of times,” Jason Czech said. “But they were either closed — it was Monday and they were closed. Of course today, now they’re closed again, on vacation.”

When the casino was nearly ready to open a year ago, executives gathered to celebrate in a casino ballroom with public officials.

Mayor Domenic Sarno told the crowd he was proud and honored to have MGM in town.

"They have spread their wealth to all our vendors, material supplies and businesses, whether buying from them or incorporating them here in MGM," Sarno said. "They have invested their time and belief here at the city of Springfield."

After the casino opened on Aug. 24, 2018, a couple of shops were set up opposite on the Main Street block, selling gifts and high-end women’s clothing. But now, those storefronts stand empty.

A year later, a line of customers waited to order lunch at Sun Kim Bop, a restaurant just up the street from the casino. Owner Sun Kim said she got a lot of business from construction workers before the casino opened. Other neighborhood venues reported the same thing.

"Now, not many people come," she said. "But still, some executives and some people still come."

That includes casino customers looking for her Korean food.

"Especially Asians looking for some different kind of food," she said. "[They] look for us [on] Google and Yelp. And then come to us."

Closer to the casino, inside Mike’s Beauty Supply, it was quiet while owner Michael Kang sewed a display wig. He said the casino hasn’t brought him any new business.

“Literally other than bringing, like, homeless people for panhandling, it really doesn’t do anything for our business here on Main Street that much,” Kang said.

'No Impact For Us. No New Customers'

Down the block, Edwa Moyet wore a Chicago Cubs hat behind the counter at C 2 Z, a convenience store and smoke shop. He has noticed the same thing as Kang.

“Now, the people from the bus terminal that were over there asking for money, they’re all over here now,” Moyet said. “And that scares a lot of people. So that’s why they don’t go in the store. They’re like, you know, ‘Let’s just stay in the casino.’ ”

That's despite cigarettes being about $5 cheaper in the store, according to Moyet. He said his customers are the same as before the casino’s construction — mostly people from the courthouse and a nearby bank and lawyers’ offices.

“The casino didn’t do no impact for us,” he said. “No new customers. It’s the same people.”

In the South End, about a five-minute walk from the casino, lunch business was brisk at Frigo's, an Italian deli.

Outside at a table, brothers Michael and Adam Preusser from the Albany area, ate turkey subs — a pre-gambling lunch. This was Adam’s fifth or sixth visit to the casino.

“This is actually the first time I visited a business outside. It was his idea,” Adam Preusser said, gesturing toward his brother. “He’s the Googler.”

Owner Joe Frigo said he doesn’t see a lot of patrons from MGM.

“If you’re in the casino, you’re not going to say, ‘Let’s go down to Frigo's, and get a roast beef sandwich.’ That’s kind of a push,” he said.

Still, Frigo said the casino is a good neighbor in the South End.

“It’s definitely beautified the area,” he said. “It’s cleaned up a lot of blighted buildings. It’s given people new life, new energy.”

Frigo said that early on, MGM bought a lot from Frigo's.

“We were selling them quite a few gift baskets in the beginning, and I really haven’t seen that in the last six months,” he said.

Under its deal with the city, MGM Springfield is required to spend locally.

The casino spent about $1.25 million per month with Springfield businesses in its first months after opening.

One of them, a couple miles east of Frigo's, is Park Cleaners.

Owner Rebeca Merigian said her revenues tripled since the casino opened a year ago. She launders the casino’s uniforms.

“We pick up anywhere from 700 to 1,000 pieces a day,” Merigan said. “Seven days a week.”

The revenue has allowed her to buy new energy- and water-efficient washers and other equipment. She said she hired nine more people, mostly part-timers from the Forest Park neighborhood.

"I was able to offer my staff health insurance for the first time, which is fabulous," she said.

Before the casino, Merigian said she would struggle to pay the light bill.

This story was first published by New England Public Radio, in Springfield, on Aug. 7.

This segment aired on August 13, 2019.

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