Jenny Lockmiller, president of Friends of Olde Downtowne, said several things may have contributed to fewer alcohol sales and an increased family feel to the 2014 Blue Plum Festival. (Photos by Dave Boyd/Johnson City Press)
Although some may regard the Blue Plum Festival as an alcohol-fueled event, certain evidence suggests that more people visited this year’s festival for reasons other than drinking.
Jenny Lockmiller, president of the Friends of Olde Downtowne, which oversees the festival, said less money was spent on alcohol at this year’s festival than in any of the prior events.
While the event has never struggled for attendance, Lockmiller said, in the past, some people may have avoided it because of the perception that it was all about alcohol.
“For some people, there’s definitely that perception,” Lockmiller said. “I think it has been an unfair assessment of the festival.”
Lockmiller estimated that around 80,000 people attended the Blue Plum Festival over the weekend. Of that number, Lockmiller said around 5,500 bought wristbands — which permit their wearers to drink beer outside — and reusable aluminum beer cups.
Part of the reason for that reduction, she said, may have been because prices increased; the aluminum cups cost more than the plastic cups used in prior festivals.
“That was done deliberately to get a reusable cup to reduce the amount of solid waste,” Lockmiller said.
But, Lockmiller added, this year, more people may have attended after shrugging off the notion that the festival focused solely on alcohol.
“What I’ve heard is that it felt like a more family-oriented event this year,” she said. “Maybe this year people decided to give it a try and see if it’s family-oriented.”
Another reason for the higher number of non-drinkers may have been the location of the main stage. Lockmiller said that because of sidewalk alterations along East Main Street, the Fountain Square Stage was set up in the middle of Buffalo Street. The location of the stage, she said, separated the music lovers from the social drinkers.
“Those who were there to listen to music could just sit there and listen,” she said. “Those who wanted to mingle and be social were on the other side of the street.”
Regardless of the reason for the reduced number of drinkers, one local business also reported a reduction in the amount of alcohol sold. Elise Clair, general manager of Main Street Pizza Company, located at 300 E. Main St., said that while her store made more money during this year’s festival than last year’s, those profits were not the result of beer sales.
“We were a little bit up (from 2013), but it wasn’t related to the beer,” Clair said. “It was mostly our food sales, and we expanded our bar menu. But we stayed really busy the whole way through.”
Robbie Hatley, a manager at Holy Taco and Cantina, located at 211 E. Main St., said his store, too, saw an increase in revenue from last year’s festival. He added, however, that increase was the result of both food and alcohol sales.
“It think it was equal parts (food and alcohol),” he said. “We served food until 2 a.m., and we were selling food consistently. But the numbers were still great.”
Whether more money was spent on food or alcohol at restaurants, or on works of art at one of the downtown galleries, or on jewelry or gym memberships, Lockmiller said the festival was designed to bring as much business as possible to downtown Johnson City.
“We want everyone to come,” Lockmiller said. “We want everyone there spending their money downtown.”
Follow Max Hrenda on Twitter @MaxLHrenda Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/jcpresshrenda