How businesses are trying to cash in on Pokemon Go craze

Businesses aren't just cashing in on the Pokemon Go craze -- they're embracing it with gusto.

Take the Pop Shop, a popular eatery in Medford, New Jersey, outside of Philadelphia known for its large selection of grilled cheese sandwiches. Earlier this week, the restaurant began offering a free ice cream cone with the purchase of an entree to players of hit Nintendo game, which has become the most popular mobile game in history. The only problem? The promotion worked far better than Pop Shop expected.

"We are waiting for an ice cream truck right now," said Sam Daly, the restaurant's manager. "We are almost out of ice cream. As soon as the truck gets here, we will be very happy."

Medford, a prosperous community of about 23,000, is typical of small towns and big cities in the U.S. caught up in the hoopla over Pokemon Go. About 15 million people have downloaded the "augmented reality" game, in which players battle to capture cute monsters that pop up in the real world on a user's smartphone.

The Pokemon phenomenon has reached such a fever pitch that doctors have warned about injuries related to the game, while law enforcement officials have expressed concern the game making players vulnerable to crime.

In the game, participants can load up on "Pokeballs," which are required to capture the Pokemon in battles with other players in "Gyms" at Pokestops, including the one at a free-standing clock near Pop Shop, the site of a former bank. The restaurant is adding charging stations for Pokemon players to juice up their phones to make the game's fans feel even more welcome.

"It's crazy," Daly said. "Everyone on Main Street is just walking with their heads down staring at their cell phones."

Also getting in the Pokemon Go spirit, the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, last week offered a $10 discount for admission to visitors who showed the app. It is also offering the promotion July 19 to July 21, while a separate Pokemon Go offer is planned for July 24.

"We have had hundreds of folks out just in the past couple of days to catch their Pokemon and do their battles," said Tim Hall, a spokesman for the Center, Alabama's top tourist destination.

In Burlington, Vermont, workers at the My Little Cupcake bakery are catching the wave by making Pokemon-themed sugar cookies to entice the Pokemon fans congregating at the Pokestop outside the shop, store manager Steph Riggs said. The store advertised its proximity to the Pokestop on its Instagram account.

"We have seen a decent increase" in business, she said, adding that the bakery probably won't need to do further deals "because people are coming in on their own."

Six Flags (SIX) Great Adventure is so stoked about Pokemon Go that it created a guide to the New Jersey theme park for players of the game that brags it "is one of the best places within a 50 mile radius to find and train all of your favorite forest and water Pokémon."

"Our park in St Louis has an event next weekend as well as or park in New England," said Kaitlyn Pitts, a company spokeswoman. "Magic mount in out in California has well as Six Flags over Texas are in the process of putting together events."

For businesses of all sizes, it's clear, Pokemon Go is more than just a game.

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    Jonathan Berr is an award-winning journalist and podcaster based in New Jersey whose main focus is on business and economic issues.