Local News

Sipping & shopping

SEBRING - Highlands Art League's "Art Uncorked" classes - where you can do a painting one evening over a glass of wine and light refreshments - is hitting a milestone. Close to a 1,000 people have signed up for the sessions since the art league started the series last fall. The feedback was so good, the art league came up with variations on the theme - from painting a set of wine glasses to a clay class, where participants can mold wind chimes during two classes, sipping on wine and munching finger food. "It's been great," said the art league's manager Susan James. "We just about sell out on all our classes. It appealed to an audience that I don't think we reached before - working women."
Downtown Sebring, where the art league is located, has been experimenting with other wine-themed events, and organizers and merchants say they have been pleased with the turnout and the sales that have materialized. Destination Downtown's Wine Walk has brought attention to shopping opportunities in downtown Sebring, said Lora Todd, a downtown Sebring merchant and one of the organizers of Destination Downtown. "It draws people," she said. Some of those are shoppers who may not frequent the downtown area and are not aware of the changes that have taken place, she said. For $10, people can get a small wine glass and go from store to store. Participating merchants provide the wine and the food. Visitors sip a little wine, eat a little food and shop in a fun, relaxed atmosphere, said Beverly Branam, owner of Galleria 301, who remembers her store being packed during a summer event where dog owners could bring their pets. "I've found it to be very beneficial," she said. "I don't have a drunk customer. I have a relaxed customer. Most people don't come to have a cheap buzz. It's not a frat party." Such events are not new. Many cities have successful events and fundraisers that involve alcohol and food served in a family atmosphere. Todd said they are just modeling their events on ones that have worked in other places. Since Sebring has a no-open container policy, Wine Walk organizers have to get permission from the Sebring City Council to get waivers on the ordinance for those specific evenings. "We've had no problems. No issues. People have behaved responsibility," she said. Meanwhile, county residents can expect more downtown events that mix music with food and alcohol, basically because people have requested them, said Todd. In an online survey, more than 220 people weighed in on what they would like to see in downtown Sebring, according to a previous news release. Many said they wanted more to do during the summer, 62 percent said they would like better/quality events, 86 percent wanted more live music and performances, and 53 percent of respondents wanted more beer/wine/alcohol served, the survey showed. In response, six events have been developed as part of a partnership between a promotional company and several government entities. Some of the planned events, like a Girls Gone Wine that has been tentatively pitched for May of next year, are centered on food, wine and music. "It's what people wanted," Todd said. "It's a person's choice to attend or not to attend."