On Friday, five blocks of Telegraph Avenue, from West Grand to 27th Street, will be jammed with a crowd of about 20,000 gawkers and hawkers for Oakland First Fridays. This month will be the usual circus: street artists, food trucks, garage bands, and scrappy nonprofits at pop-up venues and interactive art installations across downtown. But First Fridays is also about showcasing 150-plus small businesses, including artists, makers, designers, and jewelers. As the holidays approach, the festival is getting organized around a single idea: buy local.
Fundraiser Sarah Kidder says the action is not limited to just a few blocks — it’s become city-wide. “When it’s First Friday on Telegraph,” she says, “it’s ‘First Friday’ everywhere.” Kidder says the challenge is getting every event happening at the same time and in synch, like Art Murmur‘s open-house art galleries and art walks. But from Koreatown-Northgate to the Jack London neighborhoods, Kidder says she’s been met with enthusiasm. “It wasn’t brick wall after brick wall,” Kidder says.
Nightlife revelers, often from all over the Bay, mean foot traffic for all businesses and a significant uptick in sales. The Koreatown Northgate Community Benefit District found that the average First Friday attendee sticks around and spends about $80 in Oakland. While this cash flow usually goes to bars and restaurants, Kidder sees the holidays as an opportunity to drum up interest around boutique gifts: everything from screen prints to one-of-a-kind flasks can be bought locally.
At last month’s event, Kidder had a chance to mix and mingle with the vendors and find out how First Fridays can do better for small businesses. Kidder is the first fundraiser and event coordinator hired by First Fridays in the event’s eight-year history. Her job started back in October, and she describes the “switch” she can already feel taking place as the event focuses on security, sustainability, and finding its roots.
Right now, she says, they’re in the throes of putting together a plan to make registering for the event “painless” for participants, including a better system for mapping and promoting the locations of vendors ahead of time. Kidder is also focused on getting hard numbers and measuring success, like keeping better tabs on who signed up and who showed up.
Kidder feels ready for the challenge but is realistic. “It’s not a fairy tale, you can’t wink twice and change everything,” she says. Her job going into the new year is to promote First Fridays as an event that couldn’t happen anywhere else. “Everyone can see Oakland is exciting on First Fridays,” she says. It’s time to show that excitement’s here every day.