Game day crowds bring customers back to Rama Jama’s, Bamastuff

Tzali Nislick, Contributing Writer

Stores and restaurants in Tuscaloosa felt the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Two local staples, Rama Jama’s and Bamastuff, were forced to call an audible during the 2020-21 college football season. 

“Last year was brutal,” Bamastuff owner David Jones said. 

Bamastuff has been selling merchandise to Alabama fans for 82 years, but last year was something Jones has never experienced. The University allowed 20% capacity for home games, which Jones said was tough on the store. The absence of fans milling around the Strip was hard for Jones to see last season. 

“The Kentucky game last year was at 3 o’clock. I looked out the door at noon and did not see a soul,” Jones said. “That hurts everybody in town.”

While Bamastuff did not have as many people walking through its doors last season, Rama Jama’s could still hold its typical capacity of customers thanks to its vast outdoor seating area. Even with outdoor seating, the crowds were not the same. 

“Most of our business comes from people wandering around town prior to a game,” said Michael Hebron, Rama Jama’s owner. 

But now that the University is operating at full force this fall, things seem to be back to normal for both businesses. For the first time since 2019, Bryant-Denny Stadium welcomed back fans at full capacity on Sept. 11 when the Crimson Tide defeated the Mercer Bears, 48-14. Hebron said the restaurant was packed from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., open to close. 

“The volume of customers we served was indicative of pre-COVID football,” Hebron said. 

While everything is trending in the right direction, Hebron said Rama Jama’s still feels the residual effects of the pandemic. 

“Costs of goods sold have gone up,” Hebron said. “Beef prices are higher due to COVID. Chicken prices are higher due to COVID. It’s been more difficult to operate the business due to the supply chain being disrupted.”

The same can be said about the merchandise at Bamastuff. 

“Until last month, we went about 10 months without Nike shipments,” Jones said. “They just didn’t have the goods.” 

Not only did the store struggle to receive new shipments of merchandise, but it also struggled with the rising costs of supplies due to COVID-19. 

“T-shirts are higher, wages are higher,” Jones said. “Everything is a lot tougher than it was.” 

Despite the residual hardships that remain, both businesses are optimistic. 

“My fingers are crossed that [the city] doesn’t do anything that would limit or restrict people from attending or occupying the space. As long as we stay at full occupancy, we’ll be fine,” Hebron said. 

For Jones, it means that customers still trust Bamastuff to provide them with high-quality, authentic Alabama merchandise. 

“It’s trust in knowing that what they’re going to get is a good product,” Jones said. 

With full crowds returning to stadiums and fans back to their tailgates, both businesses are ready to see what the upcoming season will bring. 

“I think people not having the experience last year are eager to get out and experience it even if they don’t have a ticket,” Hebron said. “They want to be around people and feel the energy.”