Tracy Schmidt’s mind is always working. When she gets an idea, or sees something that works in another city, she wants to try it in Burlington where she’s general manager of Burlington Beer Works, the popular restaurantand microbrewery that will celebrate its first anniversary in a few weeks. To say the co-op restaurant and brewery is hopping isn’t merely a groaner of a pun, it’s pretty accurate.
So Tracy and the Beer Works have been in the middle of lots of new activities meant to draw more people downtown. Over the past year the Beer Works has hosted everything from Trivia Night (ending after a month or two) to Salsa Night (dance class) or Flight Night. It has turned into a go-to space for private parties upstairs, become the home of a monthly Community Table dinner, $1 Oyster Night, and half-price pint night. One of the more popular events is the monthly Brewhaha, a night of standup comedy one Friday a month. She even talked Dave Wright, manager of the Paramount Theater across Front Street from the restaurant, into hosting a special night of comedy at the facility and allowed the brewery to sell beer to take inside the theater — something that is seldom if ever allowed.
Yes, Tracy Schmidt doesn’t like to take no for an answer.
Lately Schmidt noticed some new customers at the Beer Works and it sparked another idea. “I have seen an increase in guests who have just hopped off Amtrak from Durham or Greensboro to check out Burlington Beer Works and want to know what our Downtown has to offer,” Schmidt wrote in an email to people who have an interest in downtown, including members of the Burlington Downtown Corporation and its Promotions Committee. Schmidt and I are members of both groups. “My goal is to create a picture of a ‘Day Trip Downtown.'”
In her email, Schmidt asked for information from businesses, the city and organizations downtown about music, art, theater, poetry readings, performances, lectures and classes that would be compiled into a comprehensive community calendar to share with visitors downtown and with the Alamance County community. “Hopefully, over time, we (downtown businesses, building owners, and the BDC) can market it to attract new businesses, residents, developers, etc.,” She added.
Wednesday (Feb. 5) at a meeting of the BDC Promotions Committee we talked more about the community calendar. But Schmidt also shared some great ideas she’s putting in place to grow the number of events for people to attend. One is coming up on Feb. 28 and will be concentrated in the areas of Front Street between Spring and Main Streets. Schmidt is calling it the Fourth Friday Art Walk.
“I’ve wanted to do an art walk downtown for a long time,” Schmidt said. “This is also a way to keep the Fourth Fridays concept going only without the food trucks.”
Fourth Fridays are city-driven events historically held at the Historic Depot across Front Street from May to September. The Fourth Friday Art Walk will be a different concept to fill the months where nothing is scheduled. It features local artists, art galleries and other businesses wishing to take part. On Feb. 28, for example, Owl and Rabbit Gallery will host the artists whose work is on sale in its gallery on Front Street for the public to meet. While Schmidt is still lining up artists, she said the Beer Works would participate by featuring a potter, Smitty’s has agreed to host a musician and other businesses like The Blend and Co., Main Street Vinyl and Persnickety Books have indicated a willingness to participate. The Paramount is presenting the musical production “Matilda” that evening and may display a Burlington painter’s work in the lobby. As I mentioned earlier, the first one will be Friday Feb. 28 from 5:30 to 9 p.m.
I like this idea.
We talked about several other events at the meeting this morning, including one for Valentine’s Day when the Beer Works will partner with Owl and Rabbit Gallery owner and artist Casey Lewis. Read the details here but the night includes a three-course dinner and the opportunity to purchase a lock for the downtown heart, which was created by Lewis. Reservations for the restaurant on Feb. 14 are filling up fast, Schmidt said. It’s part of a full night of Valentine’s Day activities, including a city Founders Day ceremony at the heart, which is in the courtyard between The Blend and Co. and STEAM Junction on Front Street. It starts at 6:30 and includes the ability for people to renew their wedding vows.
In addition, the annual St. Paddy’s Day Festival downtown, sponsored by B-town Events, a division of Burlington’s Recreation and Parks Department, will include more acts and performers this year but without a parade. Last year the Beer Works had its soft opening at the St. Paddy’s celebration. Hard to believe so much time has passed. This year Schmidt plans to have the front of the restaurant lit in green. A bagpiper will play from the roof at around 5 p.m., continue downstairs and out onto the Beer Works patio and join the downtown party.
And our group discussed starting a Sunday music series that would begin in May. Discussion began about this in January. Final plans about location (or locations) and acts aren’t set but the idea is to draw people downtown after church and lunch, a time when traffic there is very slow. The idea immediately got our attention. Kimmy Sparrow of Front Street Public House and a member of the Promotions Committee is taking a lead role.
Committee member Roger Moore said people are looking for things to do on Sunday in Burlington, “We need this,” he said.