It started last Sunday, not long after the first wave of soldiers from the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team returned from Iraq. Jack Quinn's Irish Pub & Restaurant, a popular downtown hangout for local military personnel, filled with familiar faces.
"We were absolutely slammed," says Tara Hart, the bar's business manager, a grin spreading across her face.
The reunion was a welcome sight for the employees of Quinn's, who, like staff at many other establishments around town, have noticed a hole in the nightlife scene since the BCT and other troops have been deployed.
"When the troops leave," Hart says, "you see a space that's empty."
With the upcoming expansion of Fort Carson, Hart says she expects Quinn's and other area bars and clubs won't "see that space as much." While she doubts they'll make a big impact on her sales "just a few percentages," she guesses consistent crowds will provide an emotional boost after recent downswings.
A little ways north on Tejon Street, the owners and managers at Rum Bay and Vue Nightclub are singing a slightly different tune. They, too, expect more military personnel, larger crowds, and more sales. But, owner Sam Guadagnoli says, the increased figures won't come directly from the increased activity on Fort Carson.
He envisions they'll arrive via people like hairdressers, wait staffers and other service providers. They'll be the foremost beneficiaries in town, he speculates, and they'll spend the bulk of this new money in his establishments.
"It'll bring more money into the market," says Guadagnoli, who also owns Cowboys Country & Western on Palmer Park Boulevard. "It'll help the overall economy."
But Guadagnoli is hesitant to say he'll bulk up his staff. He'll hold off for now, and wait to see just how big of a boon this expansion brings.
One thing to consider: In a good economy, people aren't just more likely to go out; they're also more likely to spend large quantities when they do, says Chuck Schafer, Guadagnoli's general manager at Rum Bay and The Vue. Before the war in Iraq, people were spending close to $65 a night in his nightclubs, Schafer says. Recent numbers put the average closer to $35 a night.
Michael Fischer, the area supervisor for PT's Showclub, says he expects those numbers to go up again. "This town lives and breathes by the military," he says. "The more military, the more business for everybody."
Though PT's lies on the opposite side of town from Fort Carson, it remains a destination for the troops. It offers full nudity and alcohol, a combination unmatched by the competition, to say nothing of the $2 military discount on the cover charge, "free first beer" coupons, and the fact that it's the only one in town that advertises on the post's television network. This luxury allows his club to run spots during peak programming, like "Monday Night Football."
Back at Quinn's, there's a giant wall-hanging that thanks the troops for their service. Hunt continues to look forward to the increase in business, and to finding new regular customers among the throngs of incoming troops.
"The general feeling," she says, "is excitement."
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