Downtown was busier than usual on March first. Families had their strollers out. Businesses saw faces they haven’t seen. Kids were entertained with family-friendly activities, and local musicians performed for the crowds.
Susan Alexander, an official with Kokomo Downtown Association, expects even bigger crowds on April 5 as part of First Friday, a program that takes place in other cities, which began making its own home in Kokomo this past February.
Alexander said planning for the launch of this after-hours, arts-related event that takes place the first Friday of each month began a year ago when Mayor Greg Goodnight suggested that a few of the members of the Kokomo Downtown Association check out the First Friday event in Indianapolis.
Several members went along with a few other interested people, and Alexander said they were more than impressed.
“We saw how great the event was in attracting families. The venues we went to were wall-to-wall art and people,” she said.
Alexander said the group came back excited about the prospect of having that event here in Kokomo. In suggesting it and talking it over with downtown business owners and artists, they said let’s do it.
In late January a date was set to begin First Friday in Kokomo this May.
A couple business owners had a better idea. They were going to start First Friday in a week — marking February as the first month for the event.
“The Kokomo Art Association has been the driving force behind this. They are the folks who said, ‘We’re going to do it, and we’re going to do it right now.’ That’s why we’ve had it three months before we planned on it,” she said.
With all word of mouth publicity, the businesses generated First Friday interest, inviting their customers and friends, and the event took off.
“A strength of this is it isn’t the Downtown Association that’s putting it on. It’s every business owner’s and artist’s event. They decide how great it is and what’s exciting and fun for them to offer,” she said. “People support what they help create, and we’re seeing that.”
The idea is that each business hosts some type of arts-related event inside their venue from 6 to 9 p.m.
In April, Angie Meyer’s will bring in a new selection of handmade bags and offer massages, Lux Boutique will have McClure’s Orchard in the shop, Comics Cube will bring in a superhero comic artist from Illinois, and Pepperwhistle will have a laser light show, magician, and karaoke.
Other participating businesses include Main Street Café, Bohemian Tattoo Club, Goblin Games, Planet Mind, Sweet Poppins, Artworks Gallery, and LeaderOne Financial.
Each month the number of participating businesses has grown. With original plans on beginning the event in May, a formal invitation to businesses has yet to go out, but Alexander said there will be a participation push for the May event.
“These people have really hit the ground running,” she said.
With the hours taking place in the evening, outside of normal business hours, Beth Notaro, Kokomo Art Association member, said it gives people who might not be able to make it downtown during their workday a chance to experience the downtown atmosphere.
“We’re seeing lots of families coming out, walking around, strollers, just enjoying downtown Kokomo and coming into some of the eateries that they don’t get to come into because they’re not off work before 5 (p.m.),” she said.
Of the people who have signed the guestbook at Artworks Gallery during the event, Notaro said the vast majority of them had never been in before.
“It’s getting a whole new group of people who have always wanted to come downtown but couldn’t during the day, and they’ve never been in the shops,” she said. “Some people hadn’t been down there since (Artworks) was Raab Shoes.”
To Angie Meyers, owner of Angie Meyers Design Studio, it’s all about bringing to life the memories so many people have of downtown Kokomo.
“I can’t tell you how many times I have people, especially older people, come downtown and say, ‘Oh, I’m just reminiscing. This is where the hangout was when I was growing up.’ It’s just sad, so I think to have a resurgence of the downtown is really important. We want to bring it back to life,” she said.
Ryan Minick, owner of LeaderOne Financial, moved his business to downtown in January because he said he has seen that the area is coming back to life, and he wanted to be a part of it.
April will be the first First Friday LeaderOne Financial has participated in due to construction, and Minick said he’s excited.
“As a financial institution what I’ll do is have a musician in, maybe a one-piece acoustical musician one month and mix it up with an artist the next,” he said. “I’m going to do my best to come up with something different each month.”
As a way to keep everyone up-to-date on First Friday events, a website, www.FirstFridayKokomo.com has been created where the public can visit to see what’s going on each month. Businesses can post what they’ll offer, and artists, musicians, and food vendors can sign up to be on the “menu” for businesses to contact to fill their venue.
“We’re trying to make it as easy as possible for all the businesses that want to get involved to be able to connect with music and artists and food vendors,” he said.
First Friday will take place on April 5 in downtown Kokomo, beginning at 6 p.m. Visit the website for the most current listing of participating businesses.