Downtown Jefferson City businesses welcome shoppers, and sippers

Michele Caywood stood in front of a rack of greeting cards Saturday afternoon at River City Florist, carefully sifting through the selection.

Holding a glass of wine in her left hand, she sorted through the cards with her right hand.

Caywood was searching for "inspiration," she said. "Any holiday inspiration," she continued, and led the conversation to the annual Sip & Shop event in downtown Jefferson City. "I think it's just wonderful to support the businesses."

The event highlights downtown businesses and local breweries, distilleries or beer vendors. It pairs retail stores with the alcohol producers.

"My purpose -- I just love to support the downtown community," Caywood said. "They give so much back to the city. (These businesses) are the heartbeat of the community."

Gus Wagner, a member of the Downtown Business Association board and owner of Rocket Group, said consumers have anticipated Sip & Shop since about the time Lewis and Clark arrived in Jefferson City.

"It's been going on a long time," he said. "It's voluntary. We're not forcing any of our merchants to do it."

Participants take their glass and browse the merchants, he said. Through the event, shoppers familiarize themselves with alcohol producers.

"We've got Last Flight from Jeff City. We've got Blacksmith from Lohman. We've got Westphalia Vineyards here -- all right here in our backyard," Wagner said. "Some of the other vendors are a little farther away, but represented by local companies."

The number of pairings depends on the number of "libation providers," he said. Several providers that have participated in the past didn't this year, having just come off a long Octoberfest season and wishing to take a break.

A large number of merchants were open Saturday to participate in the event, he said. Shoppers were excited about the downtown shopping experience, he said, and pointed out that several groups of four or more shoppers had met up on High Street to participate in the event.

"You have friends get together -- families get together," Wagner said.

More than 200 people bought tickets in advance. Many ticket purchases were made during the previous 48 hours. And within the first few minutes of the event, several dozen more bought tickets, he said.

"It's all kinds of folks that are coming downtown today who probably weren't if this wasn't available," he said.

The timing of River City Florist's annual three-day open house coincides with Sip & Shop, according to owner Mike Moscato. The florist begins its open house on Thursday every year. Moscato said the florist had done surprisingly well Thursday and Friday, and that the trend continued Saturday.

"We've been 'sipping and shopping,' so to speak, since I've owned (River City Florist)," he said. "We've been doing this about 20 years. We've got a little bit of blending going on here."

People know they can come in and have their wine.

For businesses like his, Moscato said, fall and winter events can be frightening because they have to buy products in January for the following winter. It's a gamble every year, he added. Businesses gamble that events like war or high gas prices aren't going to happen.

"People are busy," he said. "And I love the people that come in here. They've go so much to do, and yet they come in here."

The next downtown event is Downtown Living Windows, Wagner said. Businesses expect several thousand people for the Dec. 1 celebration.