Kaiser on a roll: St. Patrick’s Day may pose challenge

Chief Robert Luman

We bid farewell to Valentine’s Day this week and prepare to leap into March and that means St. Patrick’s Day is just about a month away.

Main Street Seal Beach has a long history of attracting hundreds of out of town partiers on St. Patrick’s Day, which is always on March 17. They descend like lemmings onto the quaint street that flows to the Seal Beach pier and to the ocean beyond. People are attracted in part by the four Irish pubs, for which Seal Beach’s Main Street has garnered some notoriety. They can be seen wearing funny green hats, green hair, drinking green beer and more. Mix them all together and you have a recipe for potential mayhem. At least that is what history would suggest and it raises the hair on the back of some folk’s neck.

Back in the 1970s, Seal Beach grew its reputation for party central on St. Patrick’s Day. It became a rite of passage of sorts for younger people at the time. The day would kickoff at a Long Beach bar not far from the Seal Beach border. There the imbibing would commence with toasts at Finnegan’s Wake. Finnegan was a crude, unshaven, somewhat dirty-looking dummy dressed in Irish garb, laid out in a makeshift green coffin. After a few drinks the crowd would hoist Finnegan’s coffin on their shoulders and parade to Main Street Seal Beach. There the party would continue. Crowds got so large “back in the day” that it did not take much for things to get out of hand and sometime they did. It was the ’70s, so there were occasional streakers. However, there was a year or two when rioting broke out and things turned violent.  Main Street would be littered with trash in the aftermath.

Things have largely calmed down since those days. Times are different today, of course, but in recent years a lot of credit goes to the Seal Beach Police, volunteers from the Lions Club and the pub owners for keeping things calm. They seem to all work together to give some sense of order to the chaotic circus that Man Street leans toward on St. Patrick’s Day.

This year, the March 17 holiday will be on a Saturday. That worries Woody Woodruff, owner of W Woodruff Hair Design at 139 Main Street. He said he expects the holiday to draw many more people to Main Street bars because it is on the first day of the weekend and most people will not have to work the next day and can afford to be more indulgent.

Woodruff’s point is hard to ignore. Even when the holiday lands on regular weekday, lines form outside Main Street bars and pubs. Crowd control is always an issue and the city’s police force beefs up its manpower for the day to monitor the scene and be a major presence and thereby help keep the peace. Meanwhile, the Lions Club pitches in by offering free rides home for inebriated drivers, thereby preventing potential traffic accidents, or worse, tragedies.

Woodruff is concerned about his and his fellow merchants’ bottom line.

“It will be devastating to other business people,” Woodruff said last week during a public coffee chat at Javatini’s on Main Street with Robert Luman, interim chief of the Seal Beach Police Department.

Woodruff noted that a few bus companies deliver people to Main Street for pub-crawls and add to the crowds on the street.

“There will be drunks coming through the alleyways and we will have to deal with them lining up and blocking our businesses,” Woodruff said. “We don’t want to end up like Main Street Huntington Beach.”

Luman agreed that St. Patrick’s Day crowds in Seal Beach could pose a larger challenge this year. He said he would discuss the issue with others at the police department and develop a strategy to deal with the potential problems.

That is good to know and time will tell how much having St. Patrick’s Day land on a Saturday will impact the happenings on Main Street.

It will be a test of the strategies already in place and any new ones that are added this year. Either way, some folks say it’s nothing to worry about and anyway, it’s only one day a year.

Thank God for small favors.

Dennis Kaiser is the editor of the Sun Newspapers.