WILMINGTON — After 13 years of riverfront concerts, Wilmington Downtown Incorporated (WDI) had to move its Downtown Sundown Concert Series a couple of blocks east.
As the U.S. Coast Guard repairs the city’s bulkhead at the Cape Fear River, WDI is still adjusting to its new parking lot venue.
Despite the change-up, Ed Wolverton, WDI’s president and CEO, said the first concert in May was just as well attended as shows on the river, attracting about 3,000 people. This year, the public-private non-profit decided not to invite food trucks on the scene in order to generate more business at local restaurants nearby, including The Fork N’ Cork, Pinpoint, Rebellion NC, Platypus & Gnome, and more.
However, the recent decision by WDI’s “Play” Committee to not sell local, downtown, craft beer isn’t settling well with Edward Teach Brewery’s owner.
Downtown concert, no downtown beer
“Something’s not right,” Gary Sholar, the brewery’s owner said Thursday.
This year, Sholar met each of WDI’s specifications for a beer vendor – including pricing, refrigerator, and staff – emails show. Still, Sholar was turned away from selling beer at the concerts after WDI’s Play Committee raised concerns about “giving all brewers a chance,” Wolverton wrote in an email a day before the first concert.
After providing detailed specifics, and then later being told no, Sholar said he felt he’d been given one too many excuses.
“I contacted them last year and they gave me the runaround,” Sholar said. “Two years in a row, he’s denied us.”
Wolverton explained Thursday he is one of WDI’s two staff members and has no vote on the committee. The Play Committee, according to Wolverton, was hesitant to allow Edward Teach into the venue, where currently only R.A. Jeffreys beer is sold.
“That’s one of many issues,” Wolverton said, “How do we pick one brewer over another?”
Alcohol sales are WDI’s only source of revenue at the Downtown Concert Series, according to Wolverton. WDI splits profits from the sale of $1 wristbands, available to those 21-and-older, with various non-profits each week. Funds raised go back into WDI, whose function is to promote business downtown.
Wolverton would not comment on WDI’s vending arrangement with R.A. Jeffreys, saying it was “not really a story,” but did say WDI was not locked into a contract.
Local craft beer could be sold next year, he said, and was sold in years past. “I appreciate that they want to be involved,” Wolverton said. Craft beer was not sold last year while the concert series was still on the riverfront because Wolverton said a local vendor backed out last minute.
“We’re still getting a feel of the setup,” he said. “We’ve been especially cautious this year until we get a much better grasp of how that space is used and laid out. We much prefer to be along the river.”
Equipment is an issue, Wolverton said, as is space and electricity. WDI only got permission to use the Second Street and Market Street parking lot seven weeks ahead of the first set of the series.
“All of this was on the fly,” he said.
Limited space and electricity means accommodating fewer vendors, Wolverton said. Also, Sholar’s 16 oz. can case was “more than what we pay,” Wolverton said — although, according to emails between the two, Scholar did offer to significantly reduce his prices.
When Sholar heard the Play Committee’s stance, he explained to Wolverton allowing more breweries the opportunity to sell their local beer would help grow the local and growing market. Edward Teach would lose money at Downtown Sundown — by providing its own bartenders, refrigerated trailer, mobile bars, and coming down on its case price — but was willing to do so.
Edward Teach’s manager, Amy Walker, agrees. “It’s not just us that we’re hoping to help. Its the whole craft beer community.” She added the prices Edward Teach offered were “some of the cheapest cans of craft beer you can find.”
At Greenfield Lake Amphitheater, Edward Teach provides its canned beer, alongside other options provided by R.A. Jeffreys. Giving concertgoers a local option would be no problem, Walker said, and Edward Teach is used to doing it.
“We have a lot of moving parts this year,” Wolverton said. “And little time to have planned everything. We’re doing the best we can as a non-profit and an event producer of something of this scope.”
WDI’s Downtown Sundown Concert Series starts at 6:30 p.m. every Friday this summer through August 30. Local bands open each show, with touring cover bands headlining.
Each show lasts until 10 p.m. and wristbands cost $1 for those who want to enjoy beer or wine at the show. Learn more about parking, the new location at the corner of Market Street and Second Street.
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