By: NICK WORT
Downtown South Bend is full of business after business. But once a month, Downtown South Bend Incorporated (DTSB) brings these businesses together to celebrate the First Fridays event.
“First Fridays is an opportunity both for the public and for businesses, the businesses get an opportunity to showcase what they do by offering promotions and different activities,” said Cathy Dietz, a representative from DTSB. “For the public, it gives them the opportunity to see what’s really happening down here.”
These events are organized by DTSB. According to their website, they are a non-profit organization designed to improve the communities quality of life and to help the cities economic development. According to Dietz, the organization is not part of the city of South Bend, though it does receive some money from the city.
“We work for the businesses downtown. Our job is to help promote them and downtown.” Dietz said.
First Fridays events started in 2009, with around 30 participating businesses. The event has steadily expanded, with 66 participating businesses this year.
“The past couple of years there’s been a lot more energy, a lot more positive energy and people,” Dietz said. “Sometimes it takes that [energy] for people to finally say ‘okay’ and engage a little bit more.”
Each month the First Fridays event has a theme. This month was Valentine’s Day-themed and titled “Date Night Downtown.” DTSB encourages local businesses to use these themes to structure events and promotions.
“Everyone has their own spin on it, and for them it’s good because it keeps them thinking and thinking outside the box,” Dietz said. “And you know, with all the challenges of marketing and getting your message out these days it’s good to exercise that.”
February’s First Fridays event included live music at the Emporium from Phineas Gage Band, live jazz from The Dean’s List and singles-themed drink specials at Chicory Café, a Scholastic Art Awards exhibit at the South Bend Museum of Art, a fortune teller at Indiana Rug Company & Textile Fabrication, Inc. and many more.
“The other benefit for business in downtown is that everyone is working together. The energy of something like that is much better than when an individual store does it,” Dietz said. “Everyone coming and bringing all that energy together, and DTSB here to promote it really benefits all of them.”
This month’s First Fridays event also included free trolley service from Transpo. The trolley has five stops throughout the downtown area, making it easier to get around when parking and cold weather are a problem.
Dietz pointed out that First Fridays are a great way for the community to see the wide variety of businesses and entertainment downtown South Bend has to offer, and to help local business thrive.
“There are some that don’t believe there’s a lot of retail down here. But when you come down for a First Fridays, its a good night to come because they all have promotions,” Dietz said. “It becomes apparent how much there really is, it’s just kind of spread out. Its not like going to the mall where it’s all right there, you have to walk a little bit. Or in tonight’s case, you take the trolley.”
Local area business seems to agree that First Fridays are a great way to showcase downtown.
“First Fridays is absolutely our best night of the whole month, we look forward to it every single month,” said Dena Woods, an employee at Chicory Café. “[The customers] love it, they absolutely love it. It’s just a wonderful time for all of downtown to open their doors and showcase what they’re all about.”
“[First Fridays have] been very good,” said Pam Richardes, the owner of Indiana Rug Company & Textile Fabrication, Inc. “You know, the cold weathers kind of slowed things down a bit but tonight has been great. I think more and more people are learning about it, we hope it just keeps growing.”
Customers also seemed to enjoy the events and specials.
“I’m connected with DTSB, I think they do a really good job to help promote the area and the community,” said Ben Roseland, a customer at Chicory Café’s event. “You know, the last couple years the downtown area has come to life.”
“It’s neat to be a part of something that’s actually growing and contributing to downtown becoming somewhere worth being,” said Ian Woodiel, a worker at Chicory Café who was not working at the time of the event. “Downtown has been kind of dead recently, so we finally have this showing of people that are coming out and supporting the area. Supporting local music, little local-owned business. It’s sort of building up a community of people.”