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The first annual St. Patrick’s Day festival is held in downtown Athens, Georgia on March 17, 2019. The festival had live music, food, and activities for all ages. (Photo/Daniela Rico)

Downtown Athens businesses found a pot of gold this St. Patrick’s Day.

In the span of two months, Southern Festivals Management was able to pull off Athens’ first annual St. Patrick’s Day Festival. The last-minute effort didn’t stop businesses in the festival’s path on Clayton Street from profiting — some almost doubling their normal Sunday profits.

Quick marketing pushes and delegation of city resources resulted in an estimated 5,000-10,000 attendees, said Mitchell Jordan, owner of Southern Festivals Management. In his eyes, the festival did “fairly well” considering planning that would usually take about six months.

Booze, bites and business

While outdoor beer gardens gave folks a chance to enjoy the sunshine, some bars and businesses also saw heavy crowds inside. Barry Westbrook, owner of the local wing joint Amici, said the restaurant was packed. On an average Sunday, daily total sales range from $2,000-$4,000. From the festival’s crowd, Amici made about $7,300.

Westbrook said his staff didn’t know what to expect from the festival and ordered approximately five extra cases of chicken wings in preparation. Guinness was a customer favorite.

Across the street, Allgood Lounge broke $10,000 in sales, said bartender Dakota Collins. The bar, along with all other downtown bars, wouldn’t normally be open on a Sunday, but the Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission’s approval of St. Patrick’s Day as the only Sunday this year to allow bars to be open, worked in its favor.

Collins said being open on Sunday made for “a really good weekend.”

Jarrod Miller, the manager and owner of Jerzees Sports Bar, Moonshine Bar and On the Rocks, said his bars doubled sales from previous St. Patrick’s Days. Taqueria Tsunami manager Alex Western said the restaurant enjoyed sales 50-75 percent higher than a typical Sunday.

Miller said he ordered 234 cans of Bud Light in the festive green cans and sold out — before 7 p.m.

“I think ultimately they need to widen the area so it is more of an open-air, open-container kind of thing, but I don’t think that’s going to happen overnight,” Miller said. “I think it’s going to be a progressive thing.”

Festival finances

The festival was funded solely from Jordan’s pocket, costing an amount he was not comfortable disclosing. The sale of vendor spots, sponsorships and merchandise — such as pub crawl T-shirts — made up for the cost.

Jordan said his company could not apply for funding from the ACC Community Enhancement Program before the deadline on Feb. 28. From money collected through the ACC hotel/motel tax, the program provides allocated funds for downtown events, said David Lynn, director of planning and outreach for the Athens Downtown Development Authority.

“I think that this festival is something that’s gonna continue to grow year after year. I’m just looking forward to seeing where it goes.”

— Mitchell Jordan, owner of Southern Festivals Management

However, Lynn said that out of the $60,000 available for allocated funding from this program, bigger festivals such as AthFest and the Twilight Criterium typically get priority because of the reliable crowds they bring. The St. Patrick’s Day Festival needs to achieve this level before being guaranteed funding.

“We’ve got a lot of events and we’re getting more events coming downtown, so the slices of the pie are getting thinner and thinner,” Lynn said. “They prove that they can bring people downtown, and they’re certainly welcome to apply.”

Lynn said Sunday’s festival was a “welcome addition” to the Athens festival lineup. Jordan said he plans to continue hosting the event .

“I think Athens has been looking for alternatives for St. Patrick’s Day,” Jordan said. “I think that this festival is something that’s gonna continue to grow year after year. I’m just looking forward to seeing where it goes.”

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