Eighteen minutes before the Seahawks host the New England Patriots at CenturyLink Field on Sunday, a man in a blue Shaquill Griffin jersey walks along Occidental Avenue on the west side of the stadium.
“I’ve got two tickets for sale!” he shouts, at no one in particular.
Then, with his flowing brown hair flapping in the breeze, he lets out a booming laugh.
Inside Gantry Public House across the street, Farshid Varamini gets the joke.
But he might not find it funny.
After all, Varamini opened Gantry Public House in late February — just weeks before COVID-19 unsuspectingly squashed the Mariners’ and Sounders’ seasons and sapped his revenue stream. He also operates several “The People’s Burger” food trucks and two Pioneer Grill hot dog carts outside the stadium, and says that business is down 80-85% year-over-year.
Still, he perseveres — even during a home opener without fans at CenturyLink Field. On Sunday night, Gantry Public House, The People’s Burger and Pioneer Grill were all open for business.
But it’s not business as usual.
“It’s very different,” Varamini says, sitting at a table in his modestly filled restaurant at 3:58 p.m. ahead of a scheduled 5:20 p.m. Seahawks kickoff. “This will be year 23 that I’m down here, and we’ve done every Mariner game, every football game. I’ve never been closed. So to see this … usually I would get down here at 4 in the morning. Today I was able to sleep in and get here around 9.”
Varamini was born in Iran and came to Seattle when he was 7. He operated his first Pioneer Grill hot dog cart when he was 18. When he says he built this place, he means it; besides the plumbing and electrical, Varamini constructed much of the interior of Gantry Public House himself.
Which is all to say, this Seahawks home opener should have been a celebration — a culmination of two-plus decades of diligent work. It should have been a boon to his brand-new business.
Instead, it’s anything but.
“The first couple weeks (after COVID-19 hit) were eerie — coming down here and not seeing anything,” he says. “It’s gotten a little more normal. I’m still coming to work. We still need to make sure machines are running and things like that. Normally you couldn’t even see the sidewalk or the roads out here, because there’s so many people, not to mention all the noise.
“I’m not going to try to get used to it, is what I’m trying to say.”
Further down the block, Hector Ramos says the same. He’s standing alone in the parking lot he owns on Occidental Avenue, wearing a blue Bobby Wagner jersey and a matching Seahawks mask. It’s 4:08 p.m., barely an hour before kickoff, and the parking lot is empty.
Ramos doesn’t mince his words.
“This is the worst thing ever,” he says. “I’ve been doing this for so many years. I came today to see what was going on, whether the police would come and try to close the streets, or to watch for people or anything. I found out there’s no business. There isn’t anything.”
There is only Ramos, standing in a parking lot made abruptly obsolete. He says, in a normal season, the 20-some spots would always sell out — fetching between $50 and $100 each, depending on the size of the spot or how long they plan to stay. He actually calls his customers “friends,” because so many have reserved the same spots for countless Seahawks Sundays. They tailgate together and talk to each other; some never enter the stadium and watch from here instead.
“I don’t need to even announce it anymore,” says Ramos, who moved to the United States from Mexico City 22 years ago and has owned the parking lot for 20. “My customers are regular customers. I’m here every year and I have customers who have been coming here for 10 years. So I don’t have to advertise my business. They just come. They just come, every year.”
Every year but one.
And certainly not Sunday, when a woman throws a blue ball to her small dog in the empty parking lot north of CenturyLink Field. A man drives by in a beat-up blue Camry, waving a green Seahawks helmet out the window as he idles along.
“SEA!” he shouts, draped in a gray jersey stained with Seahawks signatures. “SEA! SEA!”
He never hears “Hawks” in response.
And, to his right, Adam Nance and a friend throw a football back and forth — each one wearing a Russell Wilson jersey. Nance moved from Belltown to an apartment outside the stadium in March, and the Washington native says the ability to attend games was “a pretty big factor.”
Seven months later, he’s yet to attend one.
“It was more the spirit of Seattle (that attracted me) — Seahawks games, Mariners games,” Nance says. “So yeah, it’s been a little bit of a letdown that we haven’t seen any.”
Instead, he’ll watch Sunday’s game on the TV in his apartment.
He knows, after all, there are no tickets for sale.