BEVERLY — It may be the fourth consecutive year of a "zero-tolerance" alcohol policy for the South Side Irish St. Patrick's Day Parade in Beverly, but that didn't stop some parade-goers from trying to conceal booze.
Despite a heavy police presence this year, people who wanted to both spectate and drink relied on green and red plastic cups, vehicle trunks, coolers, strollers and other surreptitious ways to stay under the radar.
However, those who live in the area and have attended the parade for decades say even though some people still imbibe, the no-drinking policy, designed to put some control in the event, is working.
Drinking almost killed the parade. In 2009, after more than 54 arrests, parade organizers opted to put the celebration on hold. In 2012 the event was reborn, this time with a no-alcohol policy within 800 feet of the route. In 2014, there were no arrests and only one ticket issued.
Sunday afternoon, police did not yet have a tally of alcohol-related incidents for this year's parade. But many parade fans say that while some people still do drink, those sloshy, chaotic days seem to be over.
Colleen Mench, a UPS employee who lives in the neighborhood with her daughter, Lynne Mench and Lily, her two-year-old granddaughter, said she and her family had to stop attending the parade they'd patronized for 30 years after alcohol-related incidents reached their peak.
“It got to be a drinking event that had a parade,” Mench said. “So we stopped going. I used to take the girls shopping to get them out the neighborhood because it got so boozy.”
On Sunday, in their first year back at the parade since the new policy has been in place, Mench said it's "like the parade of 20 years ago."
Her sentiment was shared by Mary Carrie, a Chicago-to-Bridgeview transplant and nurse, who said she and her family have also made the parade a longstanding tradition.
“It’s kind of like Christmas,” Carrie laughed. “With beer as the presents.”
And, she said, she's seen it all. Now in its third sober year, Carrie said she can already see results.
Deanna Garza, also a nurse living in the neighborhood, said the no-drinking policy has helped restore the community's good name.
“I think it’s an awesome idea. I think it deters a lot of the riff-raff from coming down into the neighborhood,” Garza said. “There was a stigma associated with it."
Carrie said she hadn't witnessed any underage drinking while at the parade this year. But in the past it had become a "horrible" trend she said she and her neighbors "definitely did not approve of."
When it comes to drinking or enjoying the parade, Carrie said people should be less concerned with bringing alcohol along for the day, and focus more on what the parade is really about.
“I don’t mind not bringing a drink down here. I’m here for the fun and the camaraderie,” Carrie said. “I wouldn’t want to be around it. I wouldn’t want to have my grandchildren around it.”
Mench agreed, adding that as long as the police and community share the responsiblity for keeping the parade safe, she will continue to attend.
"I think the message is out,” Mench said. "All of us in the neighborhood, we’re not gonna put up with drunken disorderlies. Today it's been a great experience.”
To see more photos from the parade, click here.
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