December 23, 2009

After 15 years of serving cold drinks to bar patrons during the traditional South Side Irish St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Brenda Welcome still can’t imagine celebrating the holiday without the event.

And any replacement won’t draw nearly as many people to the neighborhood businesses, the Wrong’s Tap bartender said Tuesday afternoon when told about the committee’s plan for a 10-day festival.

“I think there will be a lot less people and the businesses will definitely feel it,” Welcome said.

Other Western Avenue bar owners and employees agreed with her assessment of the new event.

“I don’t think a family night at the arts center is going to help us. We’re a tavern and that kind of event isn’t going to bring the crowds in here,” said Mike O’Leary, owner of Mrs. O’Leary’s Dubliner.

O’Leary said “the parade had become secondary to the party” in recent years and admitted the committee had to make some changes. But he also expects that people will continue to come to the Beverly area for a few years to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

“I’ve had people call me up, send me messages on Facebook saying that they’re still going to come,” he said.

Devra Brenn, a manager at Cork and Kerry, said the bar hasn’t made any definite plans for the 2010 holiday but she also expects steady business on the traditional parade date – March 14 next year.

“I think people will still be coming down here on Sunday to drink,” Brenn said. “It’s just like habit for them, so it’s probably a good thing that the committee is doing that event on Saturday to keep kids and families off the street.”

One business on the old parade route expects to maintain holiday sales, even without the big event. Tom Baffes, president of County Fair Foods, said the store sold 20,000 pounds of corned beef last year and he doesn’t expect demand for the product to dip significantly.

“People are conditioned to come to Beverly for whatever reason,” he said. “If you walked through the neighborhood on the parade day, you saw kids playing and people barbecuing in their front yards even though it was usually cold. It wasn’t just about the parade but about getting family together to celebrate.”

The store on Western Avenue usually is closed on the parade day, but it will be open this year, Baffes said.

“I’m disappointed that it was canceled, but I also understand that adjustments had to be made and it’s still going to be a big week for us,” he said.