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Metro businesses cash in on Pokemon Go

The next time you hear a “ka-ching” while playing Pokemon Go, it might be coming from a nearby cash register.

The gaming phenomenon is creating the kind of foot traffic the operators of restaurants, tourist attractions and retail stores would normally have to pay thousands of dollars to generate.

“July is pretty slow and this will help,” said Andy Zirgir, co-founder of Atlanta Bar Crawls, which plans a Pokemon-themed crawl in Midtown this weekend.

Zirgir said he bought 50 “lures” for roughly $35 to be able to place monsters at different bars at differing times to ensure the crowd is always motivated and keeps moving so everyone can benefit.

With millions of downloads, Pokemon Go has more active users that Twitter, according to tracking firm SimilarWeb, and is overshadowing Facebook and Instagram as America’s biggest obsession this summer. For most businesses, drawing players is a matter of luck based on the game developer’s random placement of characters or areas where players can catch them.

But businesses can buy “lures” from the app to bring Pokeman players to them, and they are coming up with other ways to get in on the action.

Restaurants and shops on Broad Street in downtown Atlanta, for instance, are drawing customers by posting signs about the latest sighting of a Pokemon monster in or near their stores. When scores of Pokemon teams showed up last week in Marietta’s square, stores promoted refreshments to keep players quenched during their hunt. (A food truck event Thursday in the Gwinnett County city of Sugar Hill is also having a Pokemon Go event.)

Six Flags Over Georgia has created an online guide to help players find the game’s training facilities or “gyms” and the more than 20 “pokestops” at its park west of the city. The park is promoting itself as one of the best places to experience everything the game has to offer — including the ability to “hatch” Pokemon eggs through miles of walking.

It also will host “Pokemon Go To The Park Day” on July 28. Admission is half the usual $65.99 general admission price.

“One in three people are playing Pokemon across our entire system,” Six Flags Over Georgia spokesman Gene Petriello said. “It is definitely very, very popular.”

Reacting quickly

Denish Shah, an associate professor of marketing at Georgia State University, said the opportunity Pokemon Go has created for businesses to rake in cash with little effort cannot be overstated. Savvy operators who react quickly can capitalize just by linking their proximity to anything related to Pokemon Go on social media.

There’s no need for a marketing strategy planned months in advance, costly demographic research or public relations teams to get the word out, he said.

“It’s a (return on investment) that businesses can only dream of,” he said. “This is a true test to see which businesses are really nimble.”

Not every business wants Pokemon Go attention. Hospitals want to be off limits for the game, as do military bases and fire houses. Nationally, the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and The National September 11 Memorial & Museum would like Pokemon Go fans to play elsewhere.

Six Flags also has asked the app developer to delete Pokemon Go from restricted park areas, Petriello said. Park staff check daily to make sure fans don’t make “off limits” spaces part of the game.

Jennifer Rollins, of Oxford, Ala., braved the heat at Six Flags this week to hunt for Pokemon critters, finding more than a handful throughout the park. She said in addition to being fun, the game enables her to spend time with her children and walk.

The downside — phone battery life. The game uses GPS to find stops, gyms or characters, a big drain.

“A good thing to do is to find a plug-in because it runs your battery down real quick,” she said.

A spokesman for electronics retailer Best Buy said the company has seen sales of external batteries jump because of the game.

Waffle House pokestops

Just days after the Pokemon Go app was released Atlanta-based Waffle House asked customers in a tweet whether they had seen Pokemon or “pokestops” at any of its locations. The chain got back more than 100 affirmative responses, leading the company to consider buying “lures.”

“We are talking about it, but our restaurants are pretty tight as it is and we don’t want customers bumping into each other,” said spokesman Pat Warner.

Anslee Schroeder, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Aquarium, said the downtown attraction also is considering lures as a way “to enhance the experience” for visitors. There are four “pokestops” at the aquarium and five monsters have been spotted.

Atlanta Bar Crawls’ Pokemon Go pub crawl this weekend in Midtown is one of several popping up in the area to take advantage of the game’s popularity. Zirgir said he thinks the event could bring out 400 to 500 players, which would easily make it one of the group’s most well-attended outings.

He’s lined up 10 participating bars, including Fado Irish Pub Midtown, Hi-Five Diner, World of Beer Midtown and Einsteins.

“This is a win for everybody,” he said. “Bars get an influx of business and game players get access to a lot of what they are looking within a two-block radius.”

Sierra Hubbard contributed to this story.

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