First Fridays looking up in downtown

THE MUMM FAMILY of Ripon and others enjoy the musical offerings of a singer in downtown Ripon during the most recent “First Friday” event, held in early August.  Ian Stepleton file photo 

By Ian Stepleton

For years, when I’ve visited the town in which my parents live these days, I’ve been impressed by a monthly program the village holds.

On the first Friday of each month, artists show their wares, businesses stay open late and the town gets this cool, “togetherness” feeling of community.

And I’d come back here and think to myself, “Why doesn’t somebody do that around here?”

Now somebody has.

Starting this past July, Ripon has held a “First Friday” event each month.

In fact, the next such First Friday event is coming right up: Friday, Sept. 2 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. throughout downtown Ripon.

Ripon Main Street Inc. manager Craig Tebon explained that the program was started “to give people another reason to come downtown, and do something at a time of the day the working public has a chance to participate.”

Makes sense.

If you’re not retired and are a working stiff like me, daytime events might not be convenient.

Tebon agrees.

“So, if you are doing things between the 9-5 time-frame, it’s very challenging for working-class people to come in and patronize you,” he said, noting this is reflective in when people are able to shop. “Some of the retail trends we’ve seen is that Friday nights are the busiest shopping times of the week. So we are trying to carve out our niche that will not only appeal to the public but also help our downtown economics.”

So, what’s this First Friday thing all about?

If you haven’t partaken in the experience already, here’s a primer on what to expect.

Tebon describes it as a chance “just to have fun. Everybody is so stressed out nowadays; let’s just have some fun. Let’s walk around and get some exercise. Check out some restaurants … Maybe you’re into some dining, maybe you’re into some shopping, maybe you’re into supporting some local artists.

“Just come down and socialize. And socializing brings communities together.”

In past months, First Friday generally has included another new Ripon event: the ArtWalk.

On those First Fridays, artists have brought their creations to downtown both for display and to be on sale.

It’s turned Watson Street in Ripon into the best art gallery in the area, for one night only!

Going forward, though, ArtWalks and First Friday events will become two distinct programs.

“We’re planning a First Friday for September and a First Friday for October, and an ArtWalk in November,” Tebon said.

In September and October, businesses will stay open late and vendors will line the street with their goods.

Then, in November, artists will return with their pieces.

The idea is to keep the event fresh from month to month, lest it get stale.

“We’re working on a twist for November, but we need some approval,” Tebon said. “We’ll have a different element to each one so it’s [new each time]. Each ArtWalk will have a theme, and we’re trying to have a different theme for the First Fridays as well.”

Thus far, the plan seems to be working.

Attendance has grown each month, with business owners and visitors alike raving about the new event.

“[Business owners] are optimistic that it’s going to build for the future,” Tebon said. “… There are more vendors taking part, there are more people milling around [as the event continues]. The last one we did in August: there was a vibe downtown. It was exciting …

“This last one we had a lady named Frankie who played the piano on the square. She was very good, blew a lot of people away. Some people were actually thinking of trying to bring her back for other functions.”

People having fun downtown, shopping and enjoying local restaurants?

Sounds like a great idea!

“That’s what we want,” Tebon said. “People enjoying the downtown, enjoying the different businesses.”