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Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Faces of lockout: Bears camp bar owner

By Michael Wright

The NFL lockout has put players and owners in limbo. The ripple effects are also felt by people whose lives or businesses touch their teams. Here are their stories:

Situated across Highway 45/52, and tucked conveniently next to the campus of Olivet Nazarene University -- host of Chicago Bears training camp since 2002 -- T.J. Donlins fills quicker than its bartenders can pour a pint once the sun goes down over Bourbonnais, a town of 19,119 located 50 miles south of Chicago.

Bears Bar
Business typically more than doubles at T.J. Donlins during training camp.
The bar’s co-owner, Tom Richmond, estimates that business picks up 2 1/2 times its normal pace in late July during training camp. But with no end in sight to this NFL lockout, camp is in serious jeopardy.

So is business at T.J. Donlins.

“Business is flat going into [training camp], but that’s normal,” Richmond said. “We do a nice bit during the three weeks they’re here; we love them. Unfortunately, this will affect us directly. Camp is a nice spike that we have come to kind of depend on. Being a small business, it helps quite a bit. So everybody here has their fingers crossed. We hope it happens -- this lockout ends.”

Football fans in the know smartly cram into T.J. Donlins during camp to cool off with beer specials, which begin at $1 and go up to the $2 Killian’s pints on Tuesdays. More appealing than the cheap beer, though, is the sightseeing.

On any given night, a few coaches, players and scouts come in, graciously sign autographs, and mingle with patrons. Some hang out on the back patio deck to team up with locals for games of bag toss.

Richmond said the training camp traffic results in additional business during the season from travelers who had visited over the summer.

“The Bears have been so good to the fans. The first year or two, it was testy because they were such a novelty,” Richmond said. “People bothered them to the point they couldn’t even sit down. Over the last seven years, it’s been good. They come out en masse sometimes. They’re courteous and will give plenty of autographs.”

Those good vibes could end soon, though. Richmond, who opened the bar in 1983, knows business will continue regardless of the lockout’s outcome. Still, he’s hoping to not have to find out what life sans training camp entails.

“Every bar in America has the NFL on their screen on Sundays. So I know there’s a lot of stuff revolving around this for a lot of people, especially us,” Richmond said. “I just hope they all come to a happy agreement.”