MARTINSBURG, W.Va.—Pickin’ in the Panhandle lost more than $73,000 last year and more than $48,000 in 2010, but the annual barbecue and bluegrass festival never was intended to be a revenue maker, according to the event’s presenter.
Andrea Ball, executive director of the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Convention & Visitors Bureau, readily acknowledged the deficits cannot be called anything but losses, but said the balance sheets fail to include the economic impact the event has on the community.
“The CVB specifically chose to make Pickin’ a tourism generator,” Ball said.
Launched six years ago by the convention and visitors bureau, Ball said the 2011 festival’s economic impact was about $6.3 million, based on a formula by Washington, D.C.-based Destination Marketing Association International.
The association’s formula factors in the number of people who turn out for the event, the amount each of them spend at the festival on items such as tickets and beer, the amount spent in the community on gas and hotels, and tax revenue generated by their visit, Ball said.
Thousands of tickets have been sold for this year’s festival, which will be held next month in Back Creek Valley at the Lazy A Campground, Ball said.
“We are on par with years past,” Ball said.
More than 50 “barbecuers” have signed up for the festival, which includes a Kansas City Barbecue Society-sanctioned competition.
Tickets for this year’s festival, which will be held from Sept. 7 to 9, have been purchased online from people from as far away as Idaho, Texas and Florida, but the concentration of ticket sales appears greatest in West Virginia and neighboring states, Ball said.
Ball said the convention and visitors bureau has given up opportunities to close the deficit in order to help nonprofit organizations, including Big Brothers Big Sisters, Back Creek Valley Fire Department and Alpha Sigma Tau sorority.
The fire department has netted proceeds from sales at barbecue tasting tents at the festival, Ball said. Big Brothers Big Sisters has been allowed to keep entrance fees collected for a moon bounce that the CVB has obtained for the event, and the sorority has been paid by the bureau to handle parking, she said.
Festival tickets also have been included with room packages at area hotels, Ball said.
Ball said they have also tried to keep ticket prices affordable for the event, which she noted was purposely scheduled in September, when occupancy rates at area hotels are lower.
“September is always a down month,” Ball said.
While forgoing certain revenue in exchange for help with staging the festival, Ball said the bureau is continuing to work toward closing the gap between income and expenses.
The 2011 festival generated $87,772 in income, including more than $45,000 in ticket sales and $10,450 in barbecue entries, but expenses totaled $160,870, according to figures Ball released.
In 2010, festival revenue totaled $80,703 and expenses were $128,862.
The festival deficits essentially have been zeroed out by contributions from the bureau, which is funded by hotel occupancy tax revenue collected by the city of Martinsburg and Berkeley County.
For more information about this year’s festival, go to www.panhandlepickin.com.