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Help for NHL's victims; Gillibrand's request is useful, but real answer is at bargaining table

Small business owners are getting hurt the most during the current disagreement between billionaires and millionaires that has produced the ongoing National Hockey League lockout.

It is for this reason Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand is calling on help from the U.S. Small Business Administration. Within the context of what Washington, D.C., is able to do in the form of relief these days, the request should be heeded and with great speed. Gillibrand's office cites the cost to the Buffalo economy at nearly $2 million in lost hotel revenues alone.

In the latest news of this 11-week lockout, the NHL has requested that the Players' Association bring a new complete proposal on major issues ranging from economics to player contracting arbitration and free agency.

Federal mediators have intervened in hopes of a resolution. Meanwhile, the season may get canceled. Emotions are at a peak on both sides as they hash and rehash around the bargaining table. The sums of money involved would make the latest Powerball jackpot look like pocket change.

To those with more modest livelihoods by comparison, this is an argument between the wealthy and wealthier. But it affects everyone from restaurant and bar owners to merchandise vendors on the street.

In Gillibrand's letter to SBA Administrator Karen Gordon Mills, the New York Democrat described the dire outlook for business owners as they grapple with a situation not in their control. It couldn't be put better as downtown businesses that usually bustle on cold weather nights remain without the normal hockey night crowds or revenues they produce and street vendors go unseen.

Gillibrand understands the impact of the lockout. She has urged the SBA to step in with some support, perhaps a workshop, and to talk with local businesses about special relief and assistance.
Another option would be to coordinate with Empire State Development Corp., the Small Business Development Center network and other resources. Both could be useful, but the league and the players need to come to an agreement on the issues that divide them. That's the real solution.

Anyone who still needs proof that the lockout has punished our local economy needs only listen to Gillibrand. That the desperate plea for resolution has prompted a call for Washington to get involved speaks volumes.