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Durham's retailers triumph at tournament time, too

For most retailers, the annual sales boom surrounding the holiday season is in a class by itself. But for Darrin Byerly, owner of The Duck Shop on Ninth Street, there's something even better-a Duke win in the NCAA Championship.

"If they win, it's like having back-to-back Christmases," said Byerly yesterday, standing amidst a small sea of Duke shirts, hats and other paraphernalia. "It'll almost double our yearly sales."

Byerly is not alone. The Duke men's basketball team's survival of the brackets has led to more than just mud fights. Area proprietors are selling more beer, food and liquor-and Durham is doing a better job of selling itself.

"Duke in the Final Four gives this community positive exposure that we can build upon in acquiring visitors and people who might move here," said Phillip Vereen, vice president for government relations at the Durham County Chamber of Commerce.

Having a dominant basketball team-especially in one of the most-watched national sporting events-helps sell Durham to businesses and individuals, Vereen said. "That's what's great about being in the Final Four," he said. "It gives us another reason to say that Durham is a great place to live because we have great basketball."

Gene Devine, who played football at Duke, has owned Devine's Restaurant and Sports Bar for 21 years. "[Going to the championship game] is the best thing that could happen," he said, taking a break from working on a broken buffalo wings fryer. "Of course you want to win, but you want about 20 overtimes."

Across the street at Satisfaction Restaurant and Bar, Sara Gittner was preparing for the crowd. "Obviously, the better Duke does, the better we do," she said. "The longer Duke's in the tournament means the longer people come here."

But having a team in the Final Four does not significantly alter the year's revenues, Gittner said. "It's really the NCAA tournament games that are the only extra ones we get," she said. "Essentially, our business is only affected give or take three or four days."

Bars are not the only source of alcohol in town, and J.D. Smith, who works at the ABC Liquor store on Hillsborough Road, said that sales have a tendency to increase if Duke is doing well come tourney time.

"From what I understand, sales were tremendous," said Smith of the time surrounding the '91 and '92 championship wins. But Smith said sales have not been tremendous lately, perhaps due to tightened rules restricting alcohol consumption on campus. In addition, Smith noted, Durham is not necessarily a one-team town.

"You gotta understand that there are a lot of people here who are [University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill] fans," Smith said. "It's almost torn down the middle as far as Duke and Chapel Hill people go."

Ernest Bason is one of the former. The 71-year-old longtime Duke fan was picking up a handle of Seagram's gin at the store. "I'm going to sit in front of my TV and have me what I call a Duke Mixed Drink," he said. "A gin and ginger ale."

For Byerly, The Duck Store owner, the insanity begins today. As of yesterday, he had already ordered hundreds of items of championship apparel, which were set to be flown to Raleigh-Durham International Airport and transported to the shop before its opening at 10 a.m. today. "It's nerve-wracking," he said yesterday. "I've been nervous ever since the tournament started."

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