The Pros and Cons of First Friday

First Friday brings local art, food trucks and hundreds of folks roaming around to the Arts District. One might assume the onslaught of people would bode well for Downtown entrepreneurs, but some establishments struggle to capitalize on the event. Here’s how some Arts District business owners size up the night.  

Cons

Footprint changes have occurred numerous times since its inception in 2002. The boundaries are not listed on the website, though as of February 2016, First Friday officially has occurred north of Charleston in the area adjacent to ArtSquare.

If businesses south of Charleston want to participate, they must promote their own events and pay any additional costs, such as shutting down roads. When events do happen south of Charleston, business owners say they don’t know in advance. This may be because happenings outside the official footprint are ad hoc.

“My first [First Friday], somebody paid to shut down my street, which really bummed me out, because I [was] the only business open on my block,” says Larry Reha, owner of Makeshift Union salon, located on south Casino Center Boulevard. “Another time there was a petting zoo directly in front of the salon, and people weren’t really up for traversing animal poop to check out Makeshift.”

Roxie Amoroso and her husband own two businesses— Exile on Main Street vintage boutique and Cowtown Guitars. Cowtown Guitars was once located north of Charleston, but Amoroso and her husband relocated the business to the south side in early 2012. They were unaware that the footprint would change.

“We actually moved south of Charleston because that was where First Friday was, and we ended up moving out of the epicenter,” she says.  She adds that since the event moved, foot traffic during First Friday has not picked up.

Owners of Velveteen Rabbit Pamela and Christina Dylag have noticed this as well, saying they have less overflow and that fewer venues stay open later since the change. They throw a monthly funk, disco and soul night called The Format that serves as an after-party. But incorporating First Friday events for other non-art-related businesses that are not bars and restaurants may be more challenging.

Jana Lynch, owner of Jana’s RedRoom art gallery inside the Arts Factory, suggests that the solution could be to partner with local artists. This do-it-yourself approach is seconded by Joey Vanas, executive director of the First Friday Foundation: “It belongs to the community. It should be created and produced by everyone.”

Pros

Lynch emphasizes that First Friday shines a light on Las Vegas artists and culture to tourists. “People from all over the world come in, and I get more exposure for my artists. We sell a lot of art on First Friday,” Lynch says.

And locals participate, too, even if people do not buy art. “The great thing about First Friday is the crowd that gets down here,” says Derek Stonebarger, president of the Las Vegas Arts District Neighborhood Association and owner of ReBar, which is located south of Charleston.

“We have artists from out of state exhibit at our First Friday because we offer them the best exposure, better than other cities’ First Fridays,” says Justin Lepper, a local artist who sits on the First Friday board, adding that some attendees appreciate the smaller event. “People are starting to enjoy the intimacy more. People that attended 10 to 15 years ago want to come back out now,” he says.

Plus, First Friday is first and foremost a good time. Dan Coughlin, who is an owner or partner in multiple businesses, including Le Thai on Fremont East and Vesta Coffee Roasters on South Casino Center, says, “It’s always been a good vibe and energy Downtown, especially during the springtime.”

Ultimately, even business owners who are concerned about the new location remain positive about the future, especially with Stonebarger as the new president of the Arts District. Business owners appreciate his positive can-do attitude and his past experience creating indie First Friday events. “I do have faith in Derek. I think that First Friday can and will be restored to its former glory because of him,” Amoroso says.

The April 7 First Friday event has been postponed until April 14 due to potential wind issues.

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