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Where there are Pokémon, people go

(c) 2016, The Washington Post.

The phone-toting customers begin streaming into Heavy Seas Alehouse right after work, faces buried in their phones and fingers affixed to their screens. They come ready to catch as many Pokémon as they can.

“Since this game kicked in, people are always on their phones – as they’re walking in, while they’re eating, till the minute they walk out,” said manager Anne Marie Parks. “I’m not a game-player, so I really don’t know what’s going on.”

But she does know this: Ever since the popular mobile game Pokémon Go debuted two weeks ago – and designated the Rosslyn, Virginia, brew pub as one of the area’s “PokéStops” – alcohol sales have been on the upswing.

“July is typically a slow month for us, but this year is different,” Parks said, adding that the restaurant recently created a menu of Pokémon-inspired drinks. “We’re selling more beer and liquor, but people are also a lot more preoccupied.”

Across the Washington region, restaurants, shops, hotels, even strip clubs, say they have seen an uptick in foot traffic – and sometimes, revenue – as Pokémon Go players cluster around designated hot spots to collect eggs, Poké Balls and potions. The game has been downloaded more than 30 million times, accounting for $35 million in revenue for its parent company, according to Sensor Tower, a mobile app analytics firm.

Local business owners say it’s too soon to tell exactly how their bottom lines have been affected by the game, but many cited an unmistakable spike in business.

“We’ve had some very, very good consecutive days,” said Nick Triantis, owner of the Camelot Showbar Strip Club in the District of Columbia, another PokéStop on the app.

The sidewalk outside the club is often teeming with Pokémon Go players, Triantis said. But many customers also continue playing once they’re inside.

“Oh yeah, they will be sitting at the tables, looking at their phones,” he said. “I’ll tell you one thing, people are really fascinated by this game.”

James Sparks, Jr., 51, began playing the augmented reality game about a week ago. Now he’s on Level 15 and often decides where to buy coffee or dinner based on which shops are best-positioned for catching Pokémon.

“It definitely shapes where I want to go,” he said.

Last week, Sparks had a particularly successful run while waiting for his dinner at &Pizza in Germantown, Maryland. The restaurant happened to be wedged between a PokéStop and a Poké Gym, where players can battle with rival teams for control.

“So here I was standing in line, catching some monsters. By the time my pizza was done, I’d defeated three monsters and captured the gym,” said Sparks, a technician at the National Education Association.

Businesses are increasingly getting in on the fun. Some, such as Politics & Prose, the independent bookstore in Northwest Washington, have purchased “lures,” which help attract rare Pokémon characters to the vicinity.

At Nellie’s, a D.C. sports bar, managers paid about $6 for lures last Thursday. The results were immediate: About 250 people showed up on an evening that typically draws 50. A number of monsters also stopped by.

“At one point, a Porygon showed up and people just went crazy,” assistant manager Derrick Vann said, referring to a rare Pokémon character. “The game is a real nostalgia machine.”

For many businesses, Pokémon Go has become a way to attract new customers and reconnect with existing ones. They say references to the game – whether on menus, sidewalk boards or Facebook feeds – are an opportunity to say, hey, we’re in on this, too.

Marriott International, for example, has taken to Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to share guest photos of Pokémon parading around its properties.

“The Pokémon were by the pool, they were at the front desk, they’re having dinner, they’re on the bed. I mean, crazy, right?,” said Matthew Glick, senior director of global marketing for the Bethesda, Maryland-based hotelier. “We couldn’t have thought this up in a million years.”

Not all businesses have been quick to embrace the game. At Sehkraft Brewing in Arlington, Virginia, which houses a PokéStop, managers say they haven’t paid much attention to the game or its players.

“I guess I’ve seen people walking by playing it,” said general manager Joseph Turner. “But people on their phones, walking, isn’t anything new.”

Even so, the throngs of Pokémon-playing passersby become noteworthy outside Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe in D.C. The shop has begun posting Pokémon-emblazoned signs on the sidewalk and sharing photos of visiting characters on its Instagram feed.

“It’s hard not to notice when a bunch of people are standing outside pointing their phones into your store,” said Sarah Baline, events director. “But it’s bringing people in, so we are happy to play along.”

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The Washington Post’s Aaron Gregg contributed to this report.

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