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Bethlehem bars drop the ball during U.S. World Cup game

A group of young men show off their own soccer skills at SteelStacks in Bethlehem before the start of Monday night's U.S. vs. Ghana World Cup game.
A group of young men show off their own soccer skills at SteelStacks in Bethlehem before the start of Monday night's U.S. vs. Ghana World Cup game.

For an entertainment venue such as the ArtsQuest campus in Bethlehem, you can't do a much better job – economic development wise – than bringing in more than 8,000 people.

But that’s just what the venue did Monday night with its FIFA World Cup SoccerFest & Viewing Party when the U.S. took on Ghana and won.

It was a jubilant affair with thousands of people cheering on their home team as part of an international event.

But the crowd was thick and the lines were long. While there was plenty of food and beverage for sale – that’s how ArtsQuest pays for the free event – lines were long and not everyone got as many hot dogs or beers as they may have wanted.

With the game ending at just a little after 8 p.m., an excited crowd was eager to continue its celebrating.

What a great shot in the arm for the bars and restaurants on the South Side that could enjoy some of the overflow from the folks that wanted to get out of the heat and toast the win with a cold beer in a cool bar.

That is … if they were open.

You can lead a horse to water, but if the trough is closed, you can’t let him drink.

To be sure, a Monday night in June is typically a slow night for bars and restaurants in Bethlehem’s South Side.

Lehigh and Moravian college students, who make up a large chunk of regular patrons, are gone for the season and most people are staying home recovering from any weekend revelry.

It’s a reasonable day to be closed or running on a short staff.

But come on, people. It’s the biggest sporting event in the world. You didn’t think you could pick up some extra business?

I should mention that my husband, my friend Joann and I were among those 8,000-plus people crowded into the Air Products Town Square to watch the game on the giant screen, and the several hundred looking to grab food and a beer afterward.

I won’t mention names, but the first bar we stopped at was CLOSED.

I find it hard to believe they couldn’t scrape up the staff to head in for a few hours to make extra money when that many people were going to be in town.

Disappointed, we drove a little farther down East Third Street and came to a second bar/restaurant. It was open, thankfully, because we had skipped dinner and our bellies were growling.

The problem there – only two people on staff that night.

With great apologies, and a genuine effort to do the best they could, the staffers admitted they didn’t know about the game and weren’t expecting a crowd.

I know not everyone is a soccer fan, the game is the red-headed stepchild of the American sports industry, but didn’t they read a paper? Didn’t they see the onscreen image whenever they went to Google? Didn’t they pay attention when all of the crowds showed up over the weekend for the lesser-publicized games? Didn’t anyone mention it to them?

I joked that I would post the schedule on the bar’s Facebook page so they’d be better prepared next time.

And now that ArtsQuest has announced it will be hosting outdoor screenings for all of the World Cup games, after the success they had with the early viewing parties, I’m telling them officially.

“Be ready for some crowds, folks!”

The crowds the World Cup viewing parties are bringing into Bethlehem are a great opportunity, but if South Side businesses want to tap into that opportunity, they need to step onto the soccer pitch and be ready for action.

Pay attention to when major events, such as the U.S. vs. Ghana game, will be happening and be ready for any business that those events could bring.

The money is there, ready to be spent.

For those who want to know when to be prepared for out-of-town sports fans descending on Bethlehem, here’s the site where you can find information and the complete schedule of World Cup Brazil games being shown at SteelStacks:

And here’s a heads-up. The next U.S. game – the United States vs. Portugal – is on Sunday at 6 p.m.

If more than 8,000 people showed up on a weeknight, you can imagine how many people will turn out on a Sunday.

Bars beware and be open.

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