There’s nothing quite like strolling along Market and Gay Streets when the town is alive. Lights twinkling from the boughs above, restaurants spilling out onto the sidewalks, live music filling the air, and neighbors all around celebrating what makes our home amazing. First Fridays really are special in West Chester.
If you're looking for a fun way to explore West Chester, First Fridays is the event for you. Taking place on the first Friday of every month, and extending through the weekend during the summer, this event offers visitors and locals alike a chance to experience the town's vibrant culture and community. Whether you’re hoping to see or be seen, or just stroll through town to find out what’s new, First Fridays have something for everyone.
In this article, we'll take a closer look at what I mean when using the phrase First Fridays, what to expect when you attend in West Chester, and I’ll offer some local insight that will help you make the most of your experience.
What are First Fridays?
A continuingly growing trend in urban areas across the nation, First Friday celebrations are organized events to promote community togetherness in a safe environment. What began as “safety in numbers” pub crawls, gallery walks, and small business shopping events has morphed into a trend that brings communities together to celebrate what makes them great and support their local businesses.
As each town has its own character, events organized like this fall on many days of the calendar. First Fridays, Second Saturdays, Third Thursdays, and all sorts of scheduling conventions are used. Check out your town’s community events page to find out how they celebrate near you!
In West Chester
In West Chester, the Chamber of Commerce has been organizing First Friday events since 2004 in an initiative to promote local small businesses and invigorate the art scene. Over the years, its success has driven it to evolve into a thriving community activity that extends throughout the month. The Gay Street Open-Air Market is the most recent evolution of this tradition, turning downtown West Chester into a trendy pedestrian haven 3 days of the week throughout the summer.
What to Expect
First Friday takes place, you guessed it, on the first Friday of every month in West Chester. It “officially” begins at 5pm as street level, metered parking becomes free throughout downtown. For the rest of the evening, revelers can sample special event offerings from the shops, restaurants, and galleries throughout town. Next month’s First Friday also ushers in the Gay Street Open-Air Market, a summer-long festival where downtown Gay Street is blocked to vehicles Friday morning until Monday morning.
As part of the festivities, street performers of all stripes set up at various points throughout town to offer entertainment for all ages. Art galleries, bars, restaurants, and even some boutiques create space for musicians to add ambiance to their environs. With so many local talents, there’s always a new act to find hidden at some coffee shop or street corner.
A Local’s Perspective
When I go to First Friday in town, I like to wander from end to end without a strict agenda. Rather than planning on stopping into my favorite shops and watering holes, I look for new opportunities in the ever-shifting landscape of small businesses. Especially early in the season like this, First Friday is an opportunity to find out what new offerings will become my regulars this summer.
Be sure to stop and enjoy the live performances and outdoor entertainment. Wandering along the roads tends to be like drifting from one song into another as the well-spaced musicians cooperate rather than compete for attention. With West Chester University and its stellar music program so close at hand, don’t be surprised if an act you see on the corner of Church and Gay is a national sensation in the not-too-distant future.
With all the pomp and press around the event, First Friday is still a big block party sponsored by the Business Improvement District. Take advantage of the opportunity and get involved with your neighborhood activities. For example, the Business Improvement District is including an Adult Egg Hunt during the upcoming First Friday. Whether you’re new to the area and trying to get to know your neighbors or a long-time townie refreshing yourself on all our home has to offer, these organized events are a safe and fun way to spend a Friday.
But I don’t live in West Chester?
If you don’t live in West Chester and are still interested in a First Friday celebration near you, good news! There are Frist Friday style events in towns, neighborhoods, and municipalities across the nation! For those with scheduling conflicts, there are even many “First Friday” inspired celebrations on other days of the week! Here in Chester County, in addition to West Chester there are robust First Friday events in Oxford and Phoenixville. In Kennett Square, they celebrate on the Third Thursday of the month, with State Street closed to vehicles from 5-10pm. Check out your town’s events for a First Friday event near you!
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