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Trade Shows & Events

‘Healthy Happy Hour’ will—finally—cater to Outdoor Retailer’s sober attendees

Plus, four ways to support your sober friends.

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If you’ve been to even just one Outdoor Retailer show, you know exactly what happens come mid-afternoon every day: the kegs come out, the beer starts flowing, and the entire show turns into a massive happy hour spanning hundreds of thousands of square feet. For some, it’s great fun. But for others, it presents a frustrating challenge.

Next week, Outdoor Retailer will have what appears to be its first sober happy hour. The Phoenix, a non-profit that has fostered an active and outdoorsy sober community, is sponsoring the event along with partners Farm to Feet, Massive Impact, Brew Dr. Kombucha, and Kate’s Real Food. The Healthy Happy Hour will run from 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday (Day 2) at the Aloft Denver Downtown Hotel.

Stacy Bare, second from the right, has been sober for seven years and is the national director of programs for The Phoenix, a nonprofit that has fostered an active and outdoorsy sober community.Courtesy

Happy hour on the show floor—and even at 2 a.m. at nearby bars—can be crucial for solidifying business deals and networking. But there are few, if any, options for people in long-term recovery from substance use disorder, those questioning their relationship with alcohol, and people who choose not to drink for personal and religious reasons.

“When I was new in recovery, at 4:30 p.m. it felt like the whole convention center was echoing ‘beer, beer, beer,’” said Stacy Bare, national director of programs for The Phoenix. He’s been sober for seven years. “It felt like a scene out of Beer Fest. I remember fleeing to my rental car.”

That’s part of the reason why the Healthy Happy Hour will be hosted off-site, to serve as a respite from the seemingly endless pints of beer offered by well-meaning show-goers. It’s open to everyone—sober individuals as well as sober allies—so it can still be a great networking opportunity even if it’s off the show floor. Instead of beer and cocktails, there will be sparkling water and kombucha, courtesy of Brew Dr. Kombucha. Kate’s Real Food will provide snacks.

Attendees like Matt Bennett, a PR professional who’s been sober for several years, said it’s about time an event like this has gotten off the ground. He and other sober friends in the outdoor industry have been talking for several shows about the need. Like Bare, he says he doesn’t judge people who do drink, but he does see a lack of options for people who don’t.

“A lot of the booths I see don’t offer any alternative other than offering [an alcoholic] drink,” he said. “They have a keg of beer and that’s it. For someone who wants to go over there and is sober, their options are pretty limited.”

For someone newly sober attending Outdoor Retailer for work, it could be a huge challenge, Bennett said. Especially since it’s not typically something people talk about openly.

“There’s still a huge stigma around sobriety and recovery,” Bare said. “We wanted to create as much space as we could, open to everyone: sober, sober supportive, and sober curious. We want this to be a celebration.”

He continued, “The industry has been so focused on creating a space for everybody. Now, we’ve created a space for us.”

Brew Dr. Kombucha is one of the sponsors of Healthy Happy Hour. The brand uses a proprietary technique to remove the alcohol from the beverage after fermentation, leaving a trace amount of less than 0.2 percent.

Four ways to support your sober friends, colleagues, and employees at this Outdoor Retailer:

1. Offer non-alcoholic beverages at brand events, like sparkling water, mocktails, soda, juice, coffee, tea, and lemonade. Kombucha can also be a great alternative, but should not be the only option; as it’s a fermented drink, it does contain a small amount of alcohol. Many sober individuals in recovery choose to avoid beverages with even a trace amount of alcohol, which includes non-alcoholic beer.

2. Don’t push alcoholic beverages or the idea of going out to the bar. You can’t possibly know what someone’s situation is. If an individual declines a beer, don’t offer again.

3. Support your employees by empowering them to choose to leave the show floor during happy hour.

4. Do your best to foster a non-judgmental environment among the rest of your team, which will help to eliminate the stigma around sobriety and substance use disorder.