by Chris Harris
It’s a new kind of New Year’s in Somerset. Since Somerset didn’t get state approval for liquor stores until 2013, and licenses for bars were just starting to trickle in, people weren’t able to fully ring in the occasion at this time last year.
For 2014, however? The bubbly is flowing.
Local alcohol-based business owners are reporting high interest and brisk sales in the midst of the holiday season, with perhaps the key date of the year falling today — New Year’s Eve.
Jami Ashley, manager at Wildcat Beer, Wine & Spirits, said that things really started picking up before Christmas, and have gone full-steam leading up to this date.
“Pretty much all of our gift packs for Christmas time went really well,” she said. “Right now, we’re running a promotion for champagne and bubblies, five percent off up until New Year’s Day. It’s really piqued interest to come in and stock up on the bubblies.”
Exact sales figures or percentages weren’t readily available at any location that was contacted. However, Ashley did say that on the day before Christmas, Wildcat doubled what it sold on the store’s first day open for business.
They’re anticipating a big crowd today too, with the store staying open until midnight.
“(Customers) have been stocking up,” said Ashley. “We don’t normally do kegs until the weekend; we sold four kegs (Monday) morning before 10 a.m. ... I really think we’ll stay busy up until (midnight).”
Carolyn Whittle, manager at First Stop Party Supply, located further south on U.S. 27, had this to say about business: “Busy, busy, busy.”
New Year’s sales have been heavy on champagne — the usual choice to toast with as the ball drops to signal the start of a new calendar turn — as well as wine, always a holiday favorite, she noted.
“In general, business has been very good. Christmas sales have been good,” she said. “Christmas eve was a very, very good day.”
Bars that first opened in Somerset in 2013 are preparing to welcome a host of customers to party on New Year’s Eve. Caroline Epperson, operating manager at Beach Buckets in downtown Somerset, said that her venue is “completely booked” for table reservations.
However, she noted, don’t let that stop you from just walking in to join the fun tonight. Special extended hours for bars have been allowed by the City of Somerset for the New Year’s Eve holiday, so Beach Buckets will be open until 2 a.m., with a last call around 1:30 a.m. or slightly later.
“We’re going to have all kinds of party favors and champagne toasts,” she said, noting that she’s happy to be a part of Somerset history, the first time the town has been at full alcohol sale capacity on New Year’s Eve.
Area band County Wide will perform, and DJ Wes will entertain in between band sets.
“I’m actually a little overwhelmed,” she said of all the interest in the holiday from customers. “Business has been very good.”
Darby Radmanesh, owner of Pub 311, said that her bar has done well since opening in May, and everything has gone smoothly, including working with the city’s Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) Department.
“Knock on wood, we haven’t had any problems at all. (Somerset ABC) has been very helpful,” she said. “It’s a good group (of customers at Pub 311), it really is.”
The bar on Vortex Corner on West Mt. Vernon Street will feature the local band Vagabond Blue as the night’s entertainment, as well as a VIP package with a party favors tray and the champagne toast when the clock strikes twelve. Pub 311 will be open until 1:30 a.m., said Radmanesh.
“People seem to be really interested,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of calls. It’s been a good response.”
City ABC administrator Nick Bradley is hopeful the New Year’s holiday will represent a financial boon for Somerset in terms of the revenue made from alcohol sales. The city charges a regulatory fee on alcohol sales that has substantially firmed up the city’s coffers.
How much of a windfall New Year’s could represent thus far remains unknown, however.
“It’s really hard to say right now,” said Bradley. “Whether it be during the summer and what impact tourists have, or during holiday times, what impact it would have would be really tough to project.”
At least things are passing the eye test, however.
“It looks like traffic in stores seems to be fairly high,” said Bradley. “It’s been busy all throughout the holidays.”