In an effort to stand out better, First Fridays in Mt. Airy will be renamed Final-y Friday and be held at the end of the month.
The change comes as the new Business Association of Mt. Airy (BAM) takes over as organizer of the event. The inaugural “Final-ly Friday” will be held April 27, mainly between the 6700 and 7200 blocks of Germantown Avenue. Final-ly Fridays will be held on the last Friday of each month.A desire to reduce competition with other city-wide First Fridays is reason behind the decision to change the event date from the first to the last Friday of the month, explained BAM’s Director, Elizabeth Moselle. April’s Final-ly Friday theme will be “Spring Into Mt. Airy.” Final-ly Fridays will be promoted through BAM’s website, GoMtAiry.com, which launched this weekend.Getting participantsFood For All’s Amy Kunkle said that Moselle approached her about the event. “I haven’t officially joined, but I am” a member of BAM, she disclosed. Food For All will “absolutely” be taking part in the Final-ly Friday festivities, Kunkle enthused. She plans to invite local guest authors, chefs and musicians to the store.
Mt. Airy First Friday’s former organizer, Herb Rothe of Rothe Florists, stated that he’s not thrilled with the event’s “awkward” new name. However, Rothe, who is on BAM’s Marketing and Promotions Committee, feels it’s a good idea not to be in competition with other area First Fridays. His primary concern, besides the name, is whether there will be enough parking available. “If I can’t park anywhere near here, I’m not going to even bother coming,” Rothe remarked. The florist will stay open late and be offering monthly specials. “We’ll give it a shot and see how it goes,” he said.
Infusion Cafe to keep its First Friday events
Infusion Cafe has held some of the most successful Friday happenings in the neighborhood. Anastasia Writer hosts the Jammin’ On The 1 poetry jam showcase at Infusion Cafe on First Fridays. The poetry jam just returned from a winter hiatus last week in celebration of National Poetry Month. Writer had not heard of Final-ly Fridays and thinks the transition will be difficult. “People are going to be confused,” she exclaimed. Writer intends to keep her poetry jam on the first Friday of each month, mainly because of its name. “It was Jammin’ On The 1 before we came here,” she said. Infusion Cafe’s owner, Jane Shapiro has been featuring The Fuze open mic and poetry slam at the cafe on both the second and last Fridays of every month. Shapiro said she has no plans to join BAM and doesn’t see how membership would help her business. She is not convinced that the Final-ly Fridays concept will take hold in the community. “I think the first couple will do well,” Shapiro remarked, but added that she thinks eventually the monthly festivities will die out.
HistoryFirst Fridays have been an on-going occurrence in Mt. Airy for at least 10 years. Rothe explained that what began as an ad hoc group of five retailers grew in size, eventually becoming part of the defunct Mt. Airy Business Association (MABA) about five years ago. Rothe continued to organize the event after MABA dissolved, but the economic recession “hit Mt. Airy hard.” In 2009, participation started to decline as less retailers were present on Germantown Avenue. Before that, Rothe told that First Fridays in Mt. Airy saw some successes such as a Scarecrow Making Contest and Scavanger Hunt.Rothe welcomes the event’s new leadership and feels that because of BAM’s tie with Mt. Airy USA (MAUSA) it could be successful. Though MAUSA had a hand in past First Fridays, Rothe said it was in a “very limited role.” This time around, MAUSA’s new initiative BAM will handle the coordination and try to obtain sponsorship. Rothe believes an improved infrastructure is the key to success. “I just don’t know how well that’s going to go. But you got to start some place,” he said.
What about art?When people think of First Fridays, arts and culture typically come to mind. The Old City Arts Association began the Philadelphia tradition in 1991 as an open house event within the arts community.People from all over the greater metropolitan region flock downtown primarily to check out changing art exhibits and opening receptions, to see and be seen. The districts’ restaurants and bars benefit from the spill-over of attendees who make it a night out on the town.Mt. Airy’s First Fridays focused on shopping and dining along Germantown Avenue. Rothe believes that art should “ride the coat-tails of retail.” He recalled partnering with local artists to decorate his shop’s window displays. “We used the art to get people in here,” Rothe acknowledged. In Mt. Airy’s strong creative community, four BAM member venues will be showcasing arts and culture during the first Final-ly Friday. On Germantown Avenue, Tesserae Studio will feature a student exhibition at its mosaic workshop. The Sedgwick Theater also plans to participate in some way, but Quintessence Theatre Group’s associate artistic director Pamela Reichen said details have not yet been worked out. Off the avenue, Mt. Airy Arts Garage (MAAG) will host an opening reception and dedication ceremony for its Solomon Levy Gallery. Walk A Crooked Mile Books will feature live bluegrass music. “We think this will be a good way to help connect the arts with the neighborhood’s restaurants and retailers in one event,” Moselle commented.Though BAM’s focus is business development, MAUSA has expressed a desire to partner with those in the local creative economy. Moselle stated that BAM plans to “also invite guest vendors and performers to contribute to the lively atmosphere in Mt. Airy’s main business hubs.” Just a few doors down from MAAG, the Mt. Airy Contemporary Arts Space (MACAS) was never approached to participate. Founder Colin Keefe explained that the gallery’s initial openings were originally held on First Fridays, “but it didn’t really work synergistically for us.” Competition from First Fridays downtown was an issue, so MACAS switched to Saturdays. Keefe stated that two-thirds of their opening reception attendees come from outside the neighborhood. This is precisely the kind of crowd BAM endeavors to attract to Mt. Airy.Keefe stated that he feels there might be an opportunity for the new monthly Friday events to be more arts and culture focused, in part because it will no longer compete with Old City’s First Fridays. “And second, there are simply more cultural outlets here now – MAAG and Quintessence weren’t around when we started, ” he added. MACAS will not be participating in this month’s Final-ly Fridays. “We already scheduled our next opening for April 14th, so probably won’t double up and try for the April First Friday, but perhaps for our next show in June,” Keefe shared.Robert Wheeler, owner of the Wired Beans Cafe was also unaware of the change. “I didn’t hear anything about it,” he stated. Wheeler noted that Wired Beans had been a part of First Fridays all last year with live jazz music. “We definitely want to build a clientele for that evening,” he said, adding that on Friday nights people go out on the town everywhere. Wheeler is not a member of BAM yet, but said he plans to join in the future after completing work on Wired’s second location in Chelten Plaza. Wheeler agreed that holding the event on the last Friday of the month is a “smart idea” in terms of competition.While MACAS, Infusion Cafe, Wired Beans and other non-BAM members might be free to continue or piggy-back their events on the BAM hosted Final-ly Friday, the welcome might not extend to all. “What I worry about is other community groups coming in and running an event on the same night,” Rothe exclaimed, referring to the October Gallery artist collective which hosts several monthly live performance events at 7165 Lounge on Germantown Avenue. Rothe is still bitter about what he calls an “abysmal failure.” He maintains that his business was hurt when October Gallery hosted its weekend long Art Expo on Germantown Avenue last autumn. The perception of the neighborhood has always been that of an artsy and creative community, but the art exhibited by the October Gallery “was not what Mt. Airy’s about,” Rothe expounded. Shapiro sees plenty of potential in Mt. Airy “for something that actually celebrates art”, particularly that of local talent. However, she doesn’t feel the Finaly-ly Friday concept focuses at all on artists. She prefers a model coming from a “more grassroots level” rather than a top-down organization with its own agenda.
Getting The Word OutBAM hopes that Final-ly Fridays will reach beyond Germantown Avenue. Moselle stated the event “has the potential to expand to other commercial hubs in the neighborhood, such as Greene Street and Carpenter Lane, depending on member interest and participation”. In addition to promotion through the GoMtAiry website, BAM will send out a newsletter the Monday before the event to folks on their mailing list. The association also intends to advertise the event through its Facebook page and among its Twitter followers.