RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Launching a new event in the midst of the pandemic is a difficult task, but one Jennifer Martin and the team at Shop Local Raleigh are undertaking.
"Somebody has got to be the first if you will. If it's got to be us, then we're going to be the first to try this. To try and do something, to try and step out of our comfort zone," said Martin of NC Hops Festival. "We've successfully done the roller skating event at the Convention Center, we're launching that event again next weekend, bringing that back. And so for us, it's about being really creative and how can we help our community to find different ways to come out and to show them that it can be done and it can be done safely."
It was created due to strict capacity limits they faced in trying to organize Brewgaloo, the annual event that drew 50,000 people to downtown Raleigh in 2019. However, Martin explained they had to work under 50 and 100-person constraints this year, and instead opted to postpone it to September in hopes that better COVID-19 metrics and looser capacity limitations would allow them to operate close to normal.
In its place, they created NC Hops Festival, which will be hosted at the State Fairgrounds June 12 - June 13. While they can hold up to 4,500 people per session, Martin said they've only sold 250 tickets thus far.
"It's a marketing challenge letting people know that things are out there, how we're going to operate it, how you should come, how you can be safe and participate," Martin explained.
She believes that the number will increase closer to the event.
"Come June 1st, in hopes and anticipation of that (COVID-19) restrictions will be lifted, more of our population will be vaccinated, we are hopeful and also knowing that the common ticket buyer is a last-minute buyer, that they will come in that last week. We will start to see that ticket surge sales, and will still be able to have a great festival, but with the smaller crowd sizes," Martin said.
After so many events have had to be postponed or canceled, Martin notes the event serves multiple purposes.
"How can we help connect local business? How can we increase economic spending? How can we get that spending to stay right here in our state? And so for us, the return of local events isn't just about getting people back out and having fun, but it's also about that boosting of the economy," said Martin about its impact.
Lonerider Brewing Company in Raleigh, which is participating in the festival, is excited about the return of a large-scale, in-person event.
"These events were the lifeline of making sure that we can actually showcase our product to somebody who is hopefully ultimate like it. And all that going away was a big bond cut from the consumers. And we are happy that they're starting to come back," said CEO and Chief Drinking Officer Sumit Vorha.
Like many food and beverage companies, they've been hit hard by the pandemic.
"On the day that we heard that the businesses were being shut down because of COVID, we lost almost 67% of our revenue in about two days," said Vorha.
Vorha explained that working remotely is not an ideal option when trying to connect with customers.
"You can't conduct beer over Zoom. It's really difficult to. You got to have people try it," Vorha said.
An event like this, where guests can sample from more than 100 North Carolina beers, ciders, and seltzers is also important for brand awareness.
"Education is the most important thing we do, and when you take that way you can only do so much in an extremely crowded scenario, so just purely from a marketing experience or I call it education - because ads are marketing, some of those are good, some of those bad - but actually being able to talk to somebody and have them look at us and say, 'here is why we made this cool beer for you,' that's what's important, and that what was completely taken away," Vorha said.
On top of alcohol tasting, there will be food trucks, local vendors, and live music.
Martin said there will be hand washing and sanitizing stations, and they're looking into possible temperature checks.
Tickets are $45, and $10 for designated drivers, and those with Brewgaloo tickets can transfer them for a NC Hops Festival Ticket.