On the first Friday of December, Running with Scissors stayed open late and had art and refreshments to attract customers.
By the first Friday of April, 13 different businesses downtown stayed open late — drawing a steady stream of potential customers down Fountain Avenue after 7 p.m.
“Who could imagine downtown Springfield would be alive after 5 p.m.?” said Nancy Blackburn, a Springfield resident of 20 years. “That there’d be fun, grown-up things to do, with wine and cheese, and things like a (blown glass) demonstration.”
Ellen Alleman, co-owner of Running with Scissors, said she took the idea from other cities such as Columbus that have weekend events such as the Gallery Hop.
“All the models we’ve seen that do a First Friday get big, because so many places are open,” she said. “Some people will just go to one place, but others hit all they can. It definitely helps (businesses), and it’s more fun for patrons.”
First Friday has now become an unofficial day for downtown businesses to promote themselves with special hours, deals and refreshments. Alleman said she is excited for the First Friday of the summer months, alluding to new demonstrations and a potential ice cream theme in the future.
Businesses are working with the Center City Association for help with marketing and collaborating for larger First Friday events.
Elaine Morris Roberts is the interim executive director of CCA, and she said the organization plans to continue marketing efforts with local businesses.
“We really try to facilitate First Fridays, and we work with businesses that have questions, that need help from us in someway to get ready,” Roberts said. “We try to offer support help them with new ideas.”
Owner of Gourmet Gift Baskets Nicole Debuty called the First Friday a way to “reintroduce downtown” to people.
“It’s been wonderful. We see a lot of new faces and people who are coming in and checking us out,” she said. “We have great support from the other businesses.”
The event also allows businesses to gain new customers who maybe would not have stopped by, said Sam Beloff, owner of Rose City Fine Jewelry and a consultant with the Small Business Development Center. On the CCA’s marketing committee, his daughter, Mariam, is the liaison with downtown businesses for First Friday.
The first time he participated, Beloff had no sales, but up to 100 people stopped into the store for the first time. The second and third times, he actually had sales.
“And then more people come in after the fact,” he said. “How much would we have to pay in advertising to get people to walk in the door this way?”
First Friday allows businesses to show potential customers the positive business community in downtown.
“It shows the community what’s here, first of all, and that there are some interesting unique things downtown people may not be aware of,” Roberts said. “Plus, it shows there’s camaraderie and growing trust between businesses, and they support each other and try to help each other succeed.”
The Springfield News-Sun is committed to covering small businesses and trends, and business reporter Everdeen Mason will focus on local entreprenuers every Sunday. Send information about business openings, closings and events to firstname.lastname@example.org, connect on Linkedin or tweet @EvMason.