It’s a Friday night in State College. Pop on your party dress, pregame with your friends and hit the bars before some late night Canyon pizza.
But what if you’re not a college student? What if you’re a young professional, an older couple, or parents looking for something to do with the kids?
George Arnold, executive director of the Downtown State College Improvement District, wants everyone to feel like, “Hey, it’s Friday night, where do you want to go? Let’s head downtown State College. They have something going on usually.”
Which led him to start First Friday.
“First Friday began by asking businesses to stay open late on the first Friday of each month, have something special going on, and serve light refreshments," says Arnold.
The idea is to have something for everyone: a play at the State Theater, swing dancing at Commonplace Coffee Shop, a hot dog eating contest at the Student Bookstore. And on the street, there are musical acts.
October’s First Friday was, unfortunately, also the first frigid day of fall. Local musician Eric Ian Farmer was braving the cold and rain with his guitar. But when asked if he was expecting big crowds, Farmer gave a one-word answer:
Not too many people were hanging around outside. But the stores and restaurants saw good turnout.
First Friday has been happening for just over a year now and it’s continuing to grow in size and popularity. But Arnold says it’s these fall and winter weekends that test the strength of the tradition.
“This weekend, it’s a no-brainer that folks will be in town for the football game," says Arnold. "But we hope to give them a little bit of an exposure to First Friday in State College, and then they remember in later months, oh, hey, let’s head back for this.”
As the cold moves in, First Friday will scale down a bit. No more outdoor break dancing, magicians or pedicab rides. But the group is committed to having events the first Friday of every month, rain, shine, snow or football.
“As the weather gets colder, we’re doing even more events inside," said Elaine Meder-Wilgus, owner of Webster's Cafe. "So we’re looking forward to First Fridays for the next couple of months.”
In October, Webster’s mercifully warm cafe was hosting Friends and Farmers, a local food co-op. They were also showing the art of Misty Frederick Ritz, a local artist.
“We have a new artist every month and first Friday is traditionally when we have our reception," said Meder-Wilgus. "Often the pieces are for sale, a lot of time the artists are willing to commission things.”
Many cities in Pennsylvania and nationwide have First Friday events. Arnold hopes that businesses, restaurants and the arts community can come together to make State College’s version a success.
The Fraser Street gallery was celebrating their one-year anniversary during October’s First Friday. The space was packed with people, friends and neighbors talking with local artists. Owner Margaux Wolszczan says First Friday helped the gallery get off the ground.
“At the very beginning no one had heard of us yet, so it was nice to be on the bill as part of the program," says Wolszczan. "We get a lot of guests and visitors and buyers, it brings in a lot of people.”
First Friday gives her gallery a lot of visitors. George Arnold is hoping it will have the same effect on the downtown itself.