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When the NFL plays politics, small-business owners get tackled, too

Salena Zito on

PITTSBURGH -- Jimmy Coen never stops moving.

The 60-year-old small-business owner walks up and down Penn Avenue in Pittsburgh's Strip District business neighborhood, talking to fellow business owners, handling small problems, grabbing lunch outside at Cafe Raymond or just striking up conversations with people along the street.

Most people call him by another name: Jimmy Yinzer. He gets the Yinzer moniker because that is what he named the black-and-gold filled stores he owns along this ancient city neighborhood. The word is a homage to the distinct dialect in this Appalachian city, thanks in large part to the Scots-Irish population who first settled the region.

Instead of "you all" or "you guys," people around here say "yinz."

Most people who live or visit here and are Steelers fans make his stores their first destination. When you think of the Steelers, you think Yinzers. There are Terrible Towels, keychains, pants, dresses, leggings, footballs, sweatshirts, hats and car mats. There are outrageous black-and-gold camouflage pants and black Steelers hats with bright-gold fake hair flowing out the back. His stores along Penn Avenue have everything needed to create the most kicked-out Steelers man cave or she shed in the country. There are three Yinzer stores within one block of each other on Penn Avenue (with one under repairs from a recent fire).

His customer base is like a miniature United Nations. A variety of different languages, muffled slightly by masks, fill the air within his stores and the tables outside them.

 

When the pandemic hit, he adjusted. When a fire broke out in the middle of the night at his flagship store, he wept. So did the city. Then, he adjusted.

When the NFL decided to inject politics into its brand with advertising, social media posts and tributes on their uniforms, he adjusted, but it hasn't been easy.

"Back in 2016, when the NFL first became mired in politics, I took a hit in sales," he said. "The same in 2017. This year was no different. I saw my sales drop in a year when sales were already far below our regular numbers. People don't want the places they go to escape from stress and drama to amplify the stress and drama."

In 2016, when Colin Kaepernick first kneeled for the national anthem, the NFL experienced an 8% dip in television ratings during the regular season.

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