It’s not a game: SWFL businesses cash in on Pokemon Go

Published: July 12, 2016 6:54 PM EDT
Updated: July 13, 2016 10:55 AM EDT

FORT MYERS, Fla. – While many may still be lost and others write it off as a silly game, local businesses are using the new Pokémon Go mobile app to attract new customers.

You may have noticed millennials walking around in seemingly random places while paying special attention to their phones. They may be checking email, responding to text messages or doing a number of other things.

But watch again.

Chances are they are trying to catch fictional species called Pokémon.

Various Pokémon species, courtesy of
Various Pokémon species, courtesy of

“Usually Sundays are pretty slow for us,” said Jessa Barone, an employee at Tropical Smoothie Cafe. “But I just noticed people — a lot of people — mostly mobs of teenagers. You could tell they were playing Pokémon because they’d be like ‘Oh! got a one. I got a Charmander!'”

(Here’s a tip for local Pokémon Go players: There are a bunch of Pokémon in downtown Fort Myers).

“There’s actually a Pokéstop at this restaurant right now,” said Jovani Thompson, standing at the entrance of Ford’s Garage downtown.

He was only downtown to get some food, but catching some Pokémon in the process doesn’t hurt.

“We’ve caught like 15 Pokémon here altogether,” Thompson said. “I just thought that was crazy. I’ve never caught so many Pokémon at one place.”

Pokémon, which is owned by the electronic company Nintendo, was once a wildly popular show for school-aged children and was based on a 1998 video game. The recently released mobile app, Pokémon Go, follows the narrative of the show by allowing users to digitally collect Pokémon in different places across the country using GPS on their mobile devices.

It’s a huge deal for many millennials old enough to experience nostalgia, but young enough to still enjoy some childish fun. But that’s not to say it’s a joke.

This… is… serious.

The game was nearly an overnight success, becoming massively popular since its July 6 release. More than 10 million people have installed the app on Android, reports show, placing it on track to surpass the number of Android users on Twitter, according to Forbes.

Users “Gotta catch ’em all,” as the show’s theme song encouraged more than a decade ago.

(Yea millennials, we’re getting old).

Employees have caught on to the trend and are beginning to use tactical moves designed in the game to attract business. Because the game incorporates completely fake digital elements with real-world places, it’s an example of augmented reality technology. It allows Barone to intentionally set up lures, or hot spots that allow Pokémon Go users to collect desired upgrades, while at her job. She said it helps make sales.

“Setting the lure will bring them in because everybody wants to catch them all,” she said. “I’d notice people walk in and I’m like ‘Oh, are you here for Pokémon Go?’ And they’re like ‘Yeah.’

“They’re sitting here for a while, so they went like ‘Oh, I’m not going to just sit here. I’ll go get a smoothie. I’ll go get a wrap.’ So yeah, it’s definitely helped,” Barone said.

Other restaurant employees have also joined in on the latest national craze that is Pokémon Go.

“Yesterday morning I knew it was going to be a slow Monday morning,” said Krista Hiens of Ford’s Garage in downtown Fort Myers. “So I just used my lure to my advantage and dropped a lure on my restaurant to drag people in.”

They say the game has been a huge conversation starter. And some of the employees, like Kimberly Morrison, obviously play along, too.

“We’ve seen a lot of business just come in for Pokémon playing the game since this is a Pokéstop. We love it,” she said. “We love when our customers are coming in to play because we get to interact with them a lot more.”

Pokémon Go is free and available to mobile Android and iOS users. But users should monitor their data usage as the game can eat up 20 megabytes an hour, according to