On July 11, LeBron James announced his decision to leave the Miami Heat — where he spent the past four years playing basketball — and his plan to return home to Cleveland. After growing up in Akron and helping put Northeast Ohio on the map with his tremendous talent and celebrity status, LeBron's controversial move to Florida in search for championship rings — which he ultimately achieved — was something that Ohio residents never really got over.
But now all seems to be forgiven, and not just because of what this means for the Cavaliers. The impact of LeBron's homecoming will have a significant economic influence over this Midwestern city — in some ways, it already has. According to Hopper, a travel search engine, more people looked up flights and travel information to Cleveland by 192%. LeBron is also well-aware of the effect he can have on the local economy. In his essay for Sports Illustrated, the NBA star wrote:
BuzzFeed reached out to a number of businesses in the Cleveland area by email and phone and asked if they were happy about LeBron's return, and if they think his presence will benefit Cleveland business owners. Here are the responses we received:
"I am very glad that LeBron James is returning to Cleveland. LeBron did have and will again have a big impact on the city. Like he said in the essay, it's bigger than basketball. Besides the obvious economic benefits of an exciting basketball team, I believe his charity can be influential and make a difference. I think his love for Akron and his commitment to Northeast Ohio is symbolic and will help others see the region the way those of us who live here do, as a great place to live and work. The combination of affordability, cultural amenities, wonderful parks, interesting neighborhoods, and competitive sports teams has made for a unique culture, and I am really happy LeBron is part of the equation again.
I have always been a sports fan, and one of my staffers got me really interested in basketball during the first LeBron era. I am looking forward to more exciting basketball games. It won't make a big difference to our bookstore, but I know the sports bars in the neighborhood will benefit. I love hearing the cheers (or groans) from the patio at Panini's across the street when sports fans are watching games on the big screens."
—Suzanne DeGaetano, co-owner
"Like many Northeast Ohioans, we were sad to see LeBron leave, but we're excited that we'll once again be fortunate enough to see one of the world's greatest athletes wearing our city's jersey. The fact that he's also homegrown talent makes his return even more special.
For just $1, guests can ride our eco-friendly 'Fatty Wagon' (it runs on straight vegetable oil from our restaurant) to and from Cavaliers home games. We've offered this service for years, but with LeBron back in the wine and gold, we're excited to see our shuttle fill up again with even more excited Cavs fans. I'm sure parking will be at a premium outside the Q this year, and our shuttle offers a nice alternative to driving and parking downtown.
Any time someone of LeBron's stature makes a commitment to stay in Northeast Ohio and build a legacy here, it's good for the city. Pat and Dan Conway founded Great Lakes Brewing Company in 1988 and they've seen this city go through lots of ups and downs, particularly when it comes to sports. But over the years we've never lost our pride or enthusiasm for the Great Lakes region, and it looks like LeBron might agree with us.
As for a LeBron-themed beer, we don't have anything concrete in the works yet, but we'd love to treat him and the Cleveland Cavaliers to a pint of Dortmunder Gold — perhaps that might inspire them to bring home the championship we've been waiting for!"
—Marissa DeSantis, communications specialist
"I'm very excited to have LeBron back in town — and not just from a sports perspective, but also from the perspective of a business owner. It's great for business. Cleveland's going through a renaissance right now (the RNC will be held here in 2016, having Johnny Manziel in town, etc). It's just one more added benefit for our business.
LeBron announcing his decision has already made a huge difference for business. We made the 'FOR6IVEN' T-shirts and have already sold thousands of them — we'll be pushing last year's sales numbers just in this week alone. Having him back is going to be great for us, not just this week but long-term. We'll have more fans coming downtown, a longer season, and more people moving downtown.
There's no question he's already made a difference in other businesses too. I've had conversations with other business owners in town, as well. Restaurants will see more patrons, printshops will print more flyers, etc. There's so much excitement around it. Cleveland is definitely going to see a huge impact downtown."
—Tony Madalone, owner
"We're thrilled to have LeBron back. He embodies what a lot of Clevelanders go through — growing up here and wanting to move away to experience something different, but ultimately feeling a strong pull to come home again. His impact was felt as soon as he announced his return, and he's reenergized the city. As a business owner, I anticipate increased traffic during basketball season. That's a big deal because less people venture downtown in the winter months. When the Cavs were good in LeBron's first stint with the team, games were sold out and people came downtown in droves to hang out before and after the games — or even just to watch the games and feel close to the action. It's going to be great to see that happening again."
—Charlie Eisenstat, owner
"As a business and on a personal level, yes, I'm very excited LeBron made the decision to come back to the area. Personally, as a lifelong Cavs fan, yes, I'm excited he's back, but also from a business standpoint, absolutely. Cedar Point is in Sandusky, Ohio, on the outskirts of Cleveland, and we've been voted best amusement park in the world for 16 years in a row. We're proud to call this part of the country home, and we think this is a great area not just to visit but to live. The fact that LeBron stated in his letter pretty much the same thing really resonated with us, that yeah, there's great things going on here, and he wanted to be a part of it. His tie to northeastern Ohio was bigger than just basketball.
Before LeBron made his decision, we sent out a tweet saying if he came back to Cleveland we'd rename one of our roller coasters after him, and that offer came directly from our CEO. We wanted to do what we could to help him come back here because of what it would mean to the community, not only emotionally but economically as well. Having the best basketball player in the world in your area shines a spotlight on the things going on here. Now, all eyes are on him and this area. Cleveland is even hosting the Republican National Convention in 2016. People are looking to this area and seeing all the great things we have to offer, and LeBron coming back really helped shine that spotlight on us.
The great things have always been here; LeBron has been to Cedar Point before, he knows what a great park it is and he knows the other great things that are in this area. He has firsthand experience when he says there's a lot of great things going on in this part of the country."
—Bryan Edwards, public relations manager
"Actually, I am quite impressed with LeBron James' decision to return to Cleveland. He talked of civic responsibilities, which struck me as being sincere. Compare his actions to that John Manziel dude and you see a dignified mature man versus a privileged frat boy. As for how his return might benefit area business, I can only say that unless he becomes a vintage vinyl collector, we won't see any of that heavy wallet action."
—Pete Gulyas, owner
"I think anyone that's that internationally known, choosing the city of Cleveland, regardless of the economic potential, is helping move the city in a positive direction. When you get one of the top 25 most famous people in the world saying, 'I want to call this my home,' that's undeniably a vote of confidence for anyone who's thinking about moving here or moving a business here, or, like many chefs like myself, moving back here after having left the city.
I think that beyond like the numbers and the economic stimulus, it's really just giving people the opportunity to say, yeah, it is OK to move home to Cleveland. I just think that having someone say that it's OK to live here is great, and I think people are realizing that now.
I know that's happening in my industry, and even other industries. Other chefs are successfully opening businesses all over the Midwest, not just in Cleveland. Like, Minneapolis is having an unbelievable rebirth right now. With modern media and people like LeBron James giving cities a real vote of confidence, people are realizing they can achieve their dreams in all of these cities."
—Jonathon Sawyer, chef and owner
"We are ecstatic that LeBron is back in Cleveland! We had a feeling that he would come back, but we just didn't know when. Sure, we had a jilted feeling when he left, but also had that feeling that he would come back, like a story: from good to bad to redemption.
As far as business, our business started in 2008 in the middle of the financial crisis, but here in Cleveland we had LeBron and the best team in the NBA. During 2008–10, our Cavs-themed products were some of our top sellers. LeBron left in 2010 and we were the lone company that decided not to react and sell T-shirts to commemorate his leaving or betrayal. We focused on the pride that is innate in us Clevelanders and all the positives that are going on in the city. Since he left in 2010, sales have declined on Cavs-themed products only, while our company has doubled in size. In 2012 we opened our flagship shop on the corner of East 4th and Euclid, a couple of blocks from Quicken Loans Arena, and our company really took off. This past winter, after Christmas, we had a decline in sales, as most retailers do after the prosperous holiday season. With the severe cold weather and snow and a struggling Cavs team, we struggled through the months of January, February, and March until the weather broke here. Now, with the return of LeBron, we expect those months to turn around, and they should be some of our busiest months next year. The Cavs sold out season tickets in a matter of hours on Friday, and over the weekend we had sales that matched our numbers for the holidays. Our online sales for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday surpassed what we normally do for an average month in sales. It has already been speculated that LeBron will generate more than $500 million in revenue for Cleveland businesses in the first year back.
We look forward to a great year ahead and some fun times! We have the Gay Games coming up the second week of August, the Browns' season starts after that, and then the king takes to his court. Things are looking up for Cleveland."
—Mike Kubinski, owner