First Fridays spotlight downtown State College

Downtown businesses are hopeful a new take to an old concept will bring in enough foot traffic to create more business at their stores than usual.

But it may take time.

On Friday, the Downtown State College Improvement District is hosting “First Fridays” that will be held the first Friday of each month until the end of the year, starting June 6.

The purpose is to promote local businesses, while featuring live entertainment, arts and crafts, and other activities. Organizers hope to hold events like car shows, golf expos, football parties and more.

About 30 retailers and most of the restaurants are participating in the event. Those retailers that usually close early on Friday, will now be open until 9 p.m., said Executive Director George Arnold.

Dolores Taricani, chairwoman of the DID board, said the event is a way to create an atmosphere and experience “customers can count on when visiting.”

Other members said they’re just trying to give people a reason to go downtown.

“We’re trying to make people realize there are good businesses here,” said Douglas Albert, owner of Douglas Albert Gallery and member of the DID executive committee. “All we can do is give it a go.”

The concept was started 10 years ago with an event called First Thursdays.

But with little reception by the public, the event was “hit and miss,” and took at least a yearlong hiatus, Arnold said.

This year, the concept was brought back to help showcase downtown State College on a day business leaders think is more conducive to the community.

“I think it’s a better day for the public,” Albert said.

Albert said the committee has been meeting since January on ways to make it a success.

But like other business owners, he thinks businesses need to have patience before they can see a Friday night spike in business.

“I’m not going to be overly pessimistic, but hope peoples’ opinions change about going downtown,” Albert said. “I don’t get involved in lots of things, but I think this is really important. At the end of the day we need to do what we can to attract people here, but at the same time, we have business to do and not just goodwill.”

Albert, who has been in business for 44 years, will offer discounts on items, and offer wine and cheese to patrons at his McAllister Alley gallery.

Fellow business owner Brian Cohen, of Harper’s Shop for Men, used the same word when describing the potential impact of the event — “patience” — but he’s more optimistic.

“It’s a little bit different approach,” Cohen said. “We’re anxious to see how this develops … I think people have to have patience, and businesses have to have patience and commit to a plan to make this successful, and it could gain traction. Once people know about it, then it can become a habit for them.”

The store, that’s been in existence for 88 years, will have a theme each month, Cohen said. On Friday, his store will have a special on neck wear, and will offer wine and cheese for guests.

Next month when the event lands on the Fourth of July, the special will be on attire that’s made in America, he added.

“We’re going to continue to think of new ways to bring people in,” Cohen said.

From 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, the event will kickoff with a ribbon cutting ceremony that will include State College Mayor Elizabeth Goreham and a representative from the Chamber of Business & Industry of Centre County.

Parking in the Pugh, Fraser and Beaver street garages are free with validation from participating merchants in the Merchant Validated Parking program.

Activities will include specials and light hors d’oeuvres at participating businesses, along with magicians, clowns, belly dancers, and live entertainment on street corners, Arnold said.

The heart of the activity will happen between Burrowes and Garner streets, and is costing the DID more than $10,000, Arnold said.

“This is a good thing,” Arnold said. “Any chance we can bring people downtown and help them experience that energy downtown is good, because it’s easy to forget. We want to show what downtown has to offer.”

He expects the event to attract a couple hundred people in the first few months and hopes to grow that number into the low thousands.

The next even hosted by the DID is the eighth annual Summer’s Best Music Fest that begins June 28.

Arnold said the DID is doubling the size of the event and had confirmed that country star Jason Michael Carroll will perform.