Wind rustles planned festivities

Blustery weather delays Baltimore's fireworks by a night, but thousands pack Inner Harbor to see New Year's Day display

January 02, 2009|By Julie Bykowicz and Stephen Kiehl | Julie Bykowicz and Stephen Kiehl,julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com and stephen.kiehl@baltsun.com

Weather was blustery, fireworks were postponed, and wallets were thin, leaving businesses in hot-spot Baltimore neighborhoods with skimpier-than-usual New Year's Eve crowds.

"The wind and the cold really kept a lot of people in, I think," said Patrick Russell, who owns two Fells Point restaurants. He said his Slainte Irish Pub had 47 percent fewer patrons than New Year's Eve 2007 and that Kooper's Tavern was down 29 percent, though both places did better business this December than last.

"They were expecting, I think, 75,000 people for the fireworks," Russell said. The city announced by 4 p.m. Wednesday that high winds would make it impossible to ring in the new year with fireworks. "I don't think a single one of those people made it downtown."

Bar and restaurant owners were hoping for a second crack at customers after the city's rescheduled fireworks display at 7 p.m. yesterday. By yesterday afternoon, sunny and less windy than Wednesday, Russell was feeling optimistic. Business on the usually slow day was way up.

"We're getting slammed," he said. "I think we're going to get a great dinner crowd."

Baltimore was not the only city to see scaled-back festivities this year. The weak economy prompted the cancellation of public celebrations in places such as Louisville, Ky., and Reno, Nev. Reno Mayor Bob Cashell said that with people getting laid off and tightening budgets, "We just didn't think it was right to spend $20,000 or $30,000 on something that goes up in smoke."

Baltimore carried on with its traditional fireworks display, albeit a day late. Ports America, a cargo-terminal operator, paid for the $200,000 event.

Last night, on a cold-but-still evening, several thousand people packed the Inner Harbor promenade to watch the city's delayed fireworks. The 20-minute display began at 7 p.m. with "Auld Lang Syne" played from speakers set up around the harbor. The revelers were also in the spirit, wearing "Happy New Year's!" hats and tooting on horns. Those 2-0-0-9 googly glasses were everywhere too.

Several people said they hadn't planned to be at the harbor on New Year's Eve because of the crowds and bitter wind. But yesterday, with the wind gone and the temperatures a bit warmer, they decided to give it a shot.

"We didn't have anything planned, so we came down to the aquarium and stayed for the fireworks," said Jean Flutka of Westminster, who watched the fireworks with her husband and their two sons, ages 8 and 11.

The fireworks were launched from three barges, their fiery light reflecting on the harbor water. People in the Harborplace Light Street Pavilion pressed against the glass to watch, while others braved the cold outside.

"I really like the big boomy ones," said Sarah Smith, who was watching with her sister. She got plenty of them.

Though New Year's Eve itself was less lucrative for many area bars and restaurants, promoters for some of the city's biggest parties said their crowds held strong.

About 8,000 people circulated through all-night parties at Power Plant Live venues near the Inner Harbor. Mother's, a Federal Hill bar and restaurant, threw a party for about 1,200 at the Sheraton City Center Hotel, drawing about the same number of people as last year.

"The economy didn't stop the partiers from going out," said Dave Rather, co-owner of Mother's. He said the fireworks cancellation might have helped his customers because downtown traffic wasn't as clogged as usual.

Christopher Furst, a spokesman for Power Plant Live, which includes venues such as Mosaic night club and Mex restaurant and bar, said the businesses lost the post-fireworks crowd. But he said strong advance ticket sales made up the difference.

"We exceeded expectations, considering the economic situation," Furst said.

Some area bar owners tried to adjust their plans to reflect the economy and fickle crowds. Dave Spence, co-owner of Bartenders in Canton, originally advertised a $75 dinner-and-drinks party, but when few people committed, he scrapped the idea.

"We went back to business as usual," he said. "People just didn't want to commit to something."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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