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Mountain Heritage Arts & Crafts Festival mulls wine tasting

February 17, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. - Attendance and sales at the annual Mountain Heritage Arts & Crafts Festival in Harpers Ferry has been declining and organizers of the event told the Jefferson County Commission Thursday they are thinking about offering wine tasting in an attempt to boost business.

Sales at the festival in September were down 18 percent and attendance dropped by about a third, said Mary Via, executive director of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the event.

For the last 12 festivals, attendance was down seven times and sales were down nine times, Via said.

Organizers told the commission that they believe some of the novelty of the event and others like it across the country have worn off and something new is needed to attract patrons.

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"It's just a trend in the industry. If you can't do some type of transfusion, I think we will all be in trouble," Via said after the commission meeting.

Similar to the West Virginia Wine and Arts Festival in past years at the Boydville Inn in Martinsburg, W.Va., West Virginia winemakers would be invited to the Harpers Ferry festival to offer wine for tasting and to sell, said Chuck Ellison, president of the board of directors for the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce.

"Keep in mind, it's not open alcohol consumption," said Ellison, adding that any wine purchased at the festival could not be consumed on the grounds of Sam Michaels Park, where the event is held.

Ellison wanted to get the commission's input on the idea since Sam Michaels Park is owned by the county.

Besides Boydville Inn, Commission member Greg Corliss said a similar event is held at Poor House Farm Park along Poor House Road in Berkeley County. It's a way to promote West Virginia wine, Corliss said.

Commission members agreed to have the Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney's office review the proposal.

The commissioners and Chamber of Commerce officials discussed other issues that would have to be addressed, such as insurance. A liquor license would not be needed for the wine tasting event because the winemakers already have a license, Via said.

In addition to wine tasting, festival organizers are considering offering new attractions for children, such as a toy train exhibit, Ellison said.

The Mountain Heritage Arts & Crafts Festival started in 1972 and became a big draw for the county, attracting thousands of visitors. It prides itself on offering high-quality handmade artwork and crafts like quilts, musical instruments, soap, furniture and pottery.

The festival, which also features live music, is offered in June and September.

Chamber of Commerce officials said they would like to know as soon as possible whether the county will allow the wine tasting because they are preparing for the June event.

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