ESTERO — Florida Gulf Coast University cap sales are turning heads at Lids in Coastland Center mall in Naples.
Store manager Sarah Smith said FGCU hats have been selling well since the men’s basketball team made the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.
“Everybody wants them,” she said.
The team’s success in the tournament will help bring dollars to the local economy.
This week, Lids in the Naples mall has sold about 100 Eagles caps, which cost about $25. The store didn’t carry many FGCU hats because there wasn’t a demand for university merchandise until recently.
Fans have been lining up at FGCU’s bookstore to buy university apparel.
“It’s too early to tell the economic impact of the whole on the university,” FGCU spokeswoman Susan Evans said.
What she does know is that the university has seen a spike in activity on its website and a surge in merchandise sales.
So far this month, the store has sold about $50,000 in women’s FGCU apparel and about $160,000 in men’s, according to the university. This time last year, those numbers stood at $5,807 and $15,416, respectively.
It’s not just retail that is seeing an increase in sales. Southwest Florida restaurants also are gearing up for the Friday night game when FGCU faces the University of Florida men’s basketball team.
Local restaurants are busy already because it’s tourist season and Friday’s game is expected to add business.
“It’s something that is huge for the community,” said Anthony Asker, manager at Big Al’s Sports Grill in Bonita Springs. “We are going to enjoy it as much as our fans are.”
Fans wearing FGCU colors will get a 10 percent discount on food purchases.
Moreover, during March Madness basketball games, Big Al’s offers drink and food specials, including $2 domestic beers and snack food for the games.
“We are expecting it (Friday) to be pretty crazy,” Asker said. “We are looking forward to it.”
Boston Beer Garden owner Michael Zeto said local businesses are excited about Friday’s game.
“It’s a very positive economic impact for our business,” Zeto said.
Zeto said Boston Beer Garden’s business is pretty consistent year-round, but the FGCU team’s recent run is providing a spike in the North Naples restaurant’s business.
Zeto expects the restaurant to be busy Friday from dinner all through the night for the local university’s third game in the NCAA tournament. The sports bar and restaurant, at the corner of Airport-Pulling and Immokalee roads, has a reservation Friday for a group of 120 FGCU alumni.
“We are always excited to support a local university and it’s great for FGCU to be in the game,” said Zeto, an FGCU alumnus who is excited about Friday’s game.
Since the tournament began, FGCU has been the top-selling college and most-searched school on Fanatics.com.
The top state for sales on FGCU gear has been Florida, with South Florida being the top area in the state for purchases, according to Fanatics.com, one of the largest online retailers of officially licensed sports merchandise.
Norman Love Chocolates in Southwest Florida is offering chocolate pumps.
“We’re showing our FGCU Eagle spirit with these ultra-premium chocolate high heels!” Norman Love Chocolates posted on the Daily News Facebook page. “Due to an overwhelming response, we will continue to make these in limited supply each day.
“Very limited quantities. Come early if you want one! They are too fragile to ship.”
The chocolate pumps were available at Norman Love’s Chocolate Salon in Fort Myers starting Monday while they last, and available in the Naples salon starting Wednesday. Cost is $15 each. The chocolate is about a size 5 shoe.
Away from the university’s bookstore, FGCU gear was tough to find a week before the Eagles started soaring in the NCAA tournament.
At the Target store at Gulf Coast Town Center in San Carlos Park, two racks were filled with FGCU T-shirts and sweatshirts in the men’s department, costing $10.99 and up. A plaid pair of FGCU shorts went for $12.99.
A few stores down in the same mall, JP Sports offered a sparse selection of FGCU gear: some T-shirts, lanyards and car flags near the back of the store.
“We definitely have more people in now that they’re going to the NCAA tournament,” said employee Dalton Baggett, 20, an FGCU student.
__ Dave Osborn and Laura Layden of the Daily News staff contributed to this report.