There will be a lot of reasons to see green on Saturday.
More than 20,000 people are expected for Roanoke’s St. Patrick’s Day festivities, which begin with a parade downtown at 11 a.m. For many restaurants, the day of the parade is the single busiest day of the year.
But this year comes with an extra perk: While the official events are scheduled for Saturday, St. Patrick’s Day is actually next Friday, giving businesses a chance to spread the holiday across two weekends.
Green Day: St. Patrick’s events on Saturday in Roanoke
St. Patrick’s Day is one of those holidays whose celebration has to happen on a Saturday, regardless of where on the calendar March 17 falls. With a parade on the agenda, it starts too early —…
The move to host the festival the Saturday before the holiday was deliberate by Downtown Roanoke Inc., which manages the event. Spokeswoman Jaime Clark said downtown business owners were asked which weekend they preferred, and they overwhelmingly requested this Saturday. That way, she said, they get two good weekends.
“It’s the best setup for us,” said Tara McAllister with Corned Beef Co., which hosts one of downtown’s biggest St. Patrick’s Day events. For the past four years, as soon as the parade ended, people have filed into Corned Beef to take in its special Irish menu and imbibe green beer.
“And now people have six days to recuperate and can come back out on Friday,” she said.
Corned Beef blocks off part of the street in front of its building, puts up a tent and offers a daylong party with Celtic music. The weather tends to have the biggest effect on attendance, McAllister said. Last year, more people showed up than ever before, which she credits to the sunny skies and spring-like temperatures. This year will be colder, but she still expects thousands to attend anyway.
“It’s the single biggest day of downtown Roanoke. Period,” she said.
Jason Martin, the owner of Martin’s restaurant, said he expects more than 2,000 people at his annual St. Patrick’s Day block party.
“The day of the downtown parade is always busier than the actual St. Patrick’s Day,” Martin said. “It has been our busiest day of the year, every year, since we opened. … The way the calendar falls this year creates a unique opportunity to cash in on two dates instead of one. Even with the chilly forecast for this weekend, I fully expect the 11th will be at least five times busier than the 17th.”
However, Mike Flanary, the owner of Flanary’s Irish Pub and Cornerstone Bar Grill, said he plans to offer his Irish specials on March 17. Crowds on Saturday are a given, he said, and next Friday could actually bring in a bigger crowd when Flanary’s rolls out its holiday menu and Irish stout specials. He thinks he’ll even have some green beer left.
Clark said Dickens of a Christmas brings out more people than St. Patrick’s Day, but it’s spread over three weeks. St. Patrick’s Day is believed to draw the largest single-day crowd of any day in downtown Roanoke, she said, especially as buzz about the festivities grows every year.
A Google search for “Roanoke St. Patrick’s Day” turns up multiple results for “best of” lists. Last year, the celebration made it on to “The 10 Best St. Patrick’s Day Cities in the U.S.” on Bustle, an online women’s magazine known for its viral lists. The post was written by freelance writer Kat Boogaard, who said Wednesday she didn’t remember exactly how Roanoke popped up on her radar, but said it was likely because it had appeared on other similar lists. She said she wanted to include some smaller cities on the list, not just places like Boston, which is known for its Irish community. She thought Roanoke was a good fit.
Clark said she met a couple of people at last year’s St. Patrick’s Day event who cited the blog as one of the reasons they came.
Catherine Fox, spokeswoman for tourism organization Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge, said Roanoke benefits from being one of the only cities in the greater region to host an event of this size for St. Patrick’s Day. It’s also something that the organization markets on its blog and through social media, which gets a lot of traction online.
Nationally, people are expected to spend about $5.3 billion on St. Patrick’s Day, a 13-year high, according to the National Retail Federation. According to a federation survey, more than 139 million Americans are expected to participate in the holiday. Of those, 83 percent say they will wear green, 31 percent plan to have a special dinner and 27 percent will head to a party at a bar or restaurant. The data suggest that retailers — especially restaurants — should expect a nice boost.
Virginia ABC’s St. Patrick’s Day sales have steadily risen each year, hitting nearly $17 million the week of the holiday in 2016. The St. Patrick’s Day week brings an average $500,000 boost in sales compared to non-holiday weeks, according to data from ABC. For the past three years, Jameson Irish Whiskey has been the top-selling brand on St. Patrick’s Day, both in ABC stores and in restaurants. Last year, Jameson accounted for more than $72,000 in sales on the holiday, a jump of 126 percent from the week before. The number could rise this year, especially as the celebrations span two weekends.