Tiffany Lee was one of hundreds of people searching for virtual creatures with the phone app at 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday in Old Sacramento. She says since the game, "Pokemon Go," launched two weeks ago she’s been to Old Sacramento five times, compared to just two or three times a year in the past.
“I’ve always liked Old Sacramento,” says Lee, “there’s a bigger crowd now, so I feel a lot safer coming here.”
She’s here for the Pokestops, or virtual in-game markers found in the real world. When a player is close enough to that physical location they can pick up virtual loot, like potions and pokeballs (the contraptions needed to capture pokemon). There are a lot of Pokestops within walking distance in Old Sacramento and that makes it very popular with players. It’s also a good place to find water Pokemon, which aren’t very common in the city.
Old Sacramento business owners started seeing a sharp uptick in foot traffic and sales about two weeks ago. Brooksie Hughes with the Downtown Sacramento Partnership says it’s usually a slow time for the district because of the State Fair. Since the release of “Pokemon Go” she says merchants are reporting 50 to 300 percent increases in revenues.
“When you’re working with something viral like this you can’t really plan for it because you don’t know how long it’s going to last,” says Hughes, who lives and works in Old Sacramento. “We literally, in our office, dropped everything for two days and focused on what can we do with our merchants right here right now — tomorrow what can you have in place to be a part of this?”
Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory rolled out pokeball caramel apples. Some businesses have provided charging stations so players can recharge their phones. Willie’s Burgers is offering a three-flavor, Poke-milk-shake, which they say is bringing all the players to the yard.
Greg Taylor, who owns Willie’s Burgers, says he welcomes the new crowds.
“We’ve been open until about one or two in the morning trying to figure out how to keep supplies up,” says Taylor. He’s given his employees raises and bonuses to make up for the increased work and long hours.
“Our job is to activate and promote spaces, so anything you can do to create public play and urban crawls is outstanding,” says Hughes. “Our role is to recognize an activation when it’s happening and embrace it immediately, to get in front of our merchants and say ‘Hey, how do you engage, what can you do,’ and to collect data immediately.”
Greg Taylor says his business is up 350 percent over last month and Brooksie Hughes says Old Sacramento visitorship is up 20 to 25 percent in the same time period.
But, nothing lasts forever. Hughes and Taylor hope this movement will help solidify Old Sacramento as a place to go for nightlife and food.
“When you bring in more positive, you can help to weed out some of the negative,” says Hughes. “If we can do our job right and hold on to this, then yes it can help change the perception long-term.”
Public perception of "Pokemon Go" is almost all positive. People staying on the Delta King have complained about the late night noise, but Hughes says other than that, she’s heard no complaints. In other parts of the city there have been noise complaints, muggings and distracted players walking into windows. Hughes says inattentive pedestrians have always been a problem in Old Sacramento. They haven’t seen any crime since the craze took off.
Tiffany Lee says she’s just happy to live out a childhood fantasy.
“I grew up watching Pokemon and I always wanted to become a Pokemon Trainer,” she laughs. “The game made my dream come true.”