MERCED — The countdown to the Super Bowl has begun.
With a little more than 24 hours until kickoff, Mercedians are scrambling to stock up on food, liquor and Colin Kaepernick jerseys.
"It's been crazy, that's pretty much all I'm selling right now," said Don Smith, district manager for the All American Sports Fan store in the Merced Mall. "I'll have people waiting outside for the gates to open and the first thing they grab is a couple of jerseys."
Smith oversees five other All American Sports Fan stores in Northern California and said the 49ers making the Super Bowl has boosted sales at all six locations.
"They're all big fans of Kaepernick, especially with him being a local guy from Turlock," Smith said. "Right when he got on a roll, I saw the sales increasing. Once they named him the starter, it just spiraled from there."
Smith had only one Kaepernick jersey left in stock at his Merced store by Thursday. He said he's ordered the jerseys "multiple times" throughout the season, but they usually sell out within a week.
On Sunday, the store will open an hour early with extra employees scheduled to help those last-minute shoppers. "I have a feeling we're going to be selling jerseys right until game time," Smith said. "And if they win the Super Bowl, it will be a good couple months with people looking for stuff."
Paul Di Cicco, 60, knows all about collecting 49ers jerseys and memorabilia. The co-owner of Di Cicco's Restaurant in Merced has two rooms filled with autographed footballs, helmets and jerseys -- one at home and the other inside his restaurant.
"You've got to stick with your team," Di Cicco said. "And when it finally hits, and they start winning, it's like, 'Oh my gosh, this is a sweet feeling.' "
With a 49ers flag hanging outside his Merced restaurant, Di Cicco said Sunday will be a day of good food while the big game plays inside the banquet room.
But Di Cicco won't be distracted by the toasted ravioli, mozzarella sticks, grilled sausage and hand-made pizza appetizers. "I don't think I'll probably eat -- I'll probably be glued to the TV," he said.
As for Baltimore Ravens fans coming to the restaurant on Sunday, Di Cicco has one thing to say. "I plead the Fifth," he said with a laugh, before admitting that everyone is welcome to attend -- even Ravens fans.
Wingstop in Merced also is gearing up for the big day by adding more employees and ordering a lot of extra food.
But watching the Super Bowl is extra special for manager Jamaria Mack, 25, who played against Colin Kaepernick in high school from 2004 to 2006.
Mack was a linebacker and running back for Merced High School while Kaepernick was a quarterback at Pitman High School in Turlock.
"It's exciting to see someone I played in high school on TV," Mack said. "He was a pretty friendly guy, but he was big and it was hard to tackle him."
Mack said Kaepernick was also a talented baseball player in high school. "It's not easy to do what he does," he said.
Last year's Super Bowl was a "hectic and busy" day for Wingstop, but Mack anticipates that this year will be even more packed because of the local team.
"I expect customers to be lined out the door from the moment we open," he said. "We're going to be overstaffed, and we're going to prepare way more wings."
Round Table Pizza in Merced is expecting to make more than 100 large pizzas on Super Bowl Sunday, starting as early as 7 a.m.
They've already received many pre-orders, but expect a lot of walk-in customers.
"We look at hour-by-hour sales so we know what to expect," said restaurant manager Lynn Heffner. "And we bring in extra staff so we can keep things moving."
Although the restaurant will show the game on three large TVs, Heffner said, pizza deliveries will be the biggest business of her day. She's ordered extra food, supplies and scheduled additional drivers to ensure 45-minute delivery times.
Cheryl McDermott, general manager of the Applebee's restaurant in Merced, also ordered extra food to accommodate the crowds.
"We were packed for the playoffs, and with a local team in the Super Bowl, I expect a huge turnout," McDermott said. "We'll definitely have the game on and we're running food and drink specials, including gold and red Jello shots."
Village Liquors in Merced stocked up on specialty beers and wine just in time for game day. Manager Hemga Singh said he expects to see a lot of new faces, in addition to regular customers, on Sunday.
"We are fully prepared for Sunday, and we expect to be very busy," Singh said. "This week has been normal but on Friday we've been selling more beer and wine than normal. We expect to be busy until before the game."
Pinocchio's Italian Restaurant in Merced will be running happy hour specials from 5 to 7 p.m. while La Hacienda 2 will have drink specials after 2 p.m.
For those looking for a bar on Super Bowl Sunday, the Partisan on Main Street will be closed, but O'Ryleigh's Tavern will open at 1 p.m. and feature 49er drink specials, $1 touchdown shots and half-time game prizes.
Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.