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MONEY FOR MANY IN POSTSEASON RUN

Let the rest of the nation worry about restoring liquidity to the economy.

At Ferg's Sports Bar and Grill, restoring liquidity means owner Mark Ferguson has invested $60,000 to restock the beer vault. He also has more than doubled his workforce in hopes of generating up to $150,000 a night as the Rays play the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series.

Ferguson said 23 bars have come and gone in his neighborhood, which is within walking distance of Tropicana Field, since the Rays began play in 1998, but Ferg's has endured. And now revenue is peaking at four times the rate for a regular Friday or Saturday Rays game.

Though Ferg's is the spiritual heart of the Rays Nation outside of the Trop, its stretch of Central Avenue has become a place where entrepreneurs make a fast buck on the Rays' postseason success by hawking T-shirts, beads and cigars.

Parking is $40 a space behind Ferg's. A half-dozen T-shirt peddlers are unloading threads for $10 to $20 a piece. And Ron Austin, owner of the Cigar Shop & Pub, is selling cigars at Ferg's, including a Diamond Crown Maximus that goes for $17 a smoke.

"With the economy, you wouldn't think people would pay this much for a ticket or a T-shirt. But who knows when the Rays will go this far again," said Josh Huff, 28, of New Port Rickey, who was wearing a red "Boston S----" T-shirt he bought for $20 outside Ferg's. "You have to enjoy it and soak it up."

The man behind the Boston T-shirt is John McNeil of St. Petersburg, who spent about $5 per shirt and was selling each for $20. He had 100 shirts Friday, so if he unloaded his inventory, he would have netted a $1,500 profit.

For sports merchandise shops and T-shirt manufacturers across the Tampa Bay area, the Rays' ascent also has meant an economic bonanza.

Wayne Curtiss, owner of Smack Apparelin Tampa, makes unlicensed sports T-shirts decorated with playful jabs. Sales of his "Beast of the East" and other Rays shirts have bumped up revenue by 25 percent, Curtiss said.

He already has his World Series T-shirt in mind: "Memo to Boston and New York: It didn't take 86 years or a $220-million payroll to win a World Series."

"It would give the Yankees and Red Sox fans some grief," Curtiss said.

At Tampa's Bucs & Bulls Heaven, a sports merchandise store that caters to Bucs and South Florida football fans, Rays shirts and caps make up 20 percent of the store's daily revenue, said owner Jeffrey Neil Fox.

The Bucs Stuff and More store in St. Petersburg is also enjoying a windfall because of Rays shirts flying off the racks. "Business has tripled," employee Lynda Curtis said.

Even nonsports stores are trying to cash in on the Rays. Consider artist Juan Santos Garanton, who painted watercolor works of Rays players Evan Longoria and Cliff Floyd and displayed them in front of his Central Avenue shop. The Longoria painting was selling for $400, but Garanton said Friday: "If he gets two hits tonight, it'll cost $500 tomorrow."

Then there's Michelle Foster, owner of Skin Deep Spatique in St. Petersburg, who makes $30 every time she performs a Mohawk bikini waxfor her female customers.

Foster said she's going through twice the amount of wax she normally uses in a typical week, but she can buy more thanks to the 50 Mohawk bikini waxes she had done by Friday.

Foster was trolling Central Avenue in front of Ferg's with her son and a friend Friday, handing out business cards.

"It's added a lot more waxing to my schedule," she said.

Even the city of St. Petersburg is cashing in on the Rays because of the free publicity it draws from national TV broadcasts, Mayor Rick Baker said Friday.

"I think the whole world has figured out the Rays play in St. Petersburg," he said.

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