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First Friday offers monthly opportunity public to discover downtown businesses

By Richard Rourk

If it’s the first Friday of the month, that can only mean one thing for downtown Erwin. In preparation for the monthly First Friday, which is scheduled to take place on March 5, downtown merchants are busy planning for the event.

The monthly celebration, during which local merchants keep their doors open a little later and provide deals for local shoppers, began when Union Street Gallery owners, Jan and Vince Bowden, reached out to their neighbors to celebrate small business.

“I was involved with a similar event in Portland, Oregon, which I think was the First Thursday of each month,” Jan Bowden told The Erwin Record. “I showed some work in a gallery downtown. All the stores and galleries stayed open for the event. They served wine, snacks and had featured artists in the galleries. It brought people out who would never go downtown in the evening other than for eating out. It became so huge galleries had to start charging for wine. I thought that this would be a perfect fit for Erwin and our neighbors downtown.”

According to Bowden, First Friday has been going strong since 2018. “We have been participating since the day we opened our doors,” Bowden said. “We opened in October of  2018 and because it was Apple Fest weekend, we waited and started First Friday in November of  2018.”

Bowden said that First Friday is important to get locals downtown and see what local businesses have to offer. “Maybe First Friday will get more locals to support their local merchants instead of going out of town and a lot of times people see friends they haven’t seen in a while,” she said.

According to Union Street Taproom owner Michael Baker, who is scheduled to host a pizza truck called Rockin’ Rivet for his “Pizza and Pint Night” during First Friday, events like First Friday are crucial to all small businesses looking for a boost in sales.

“It also gives the community something to look forward to, and an opportunity to fellowship with others,” Baker said. “It is always important to shop local as small businesses are the lifeblood of every community. We appreciate each and everyone that has supported up throughout the years — especially during the pandemic and we remind everyone to shop small and trade local.” For Union Street’s very own outdoor supply store, First Friday allows shoppers to purchase one-of-a-kind, local gifts.

“We have many things in our store that are specific to Erwin, Unicoi County, Appalachian Trail and the Nolichucky River,” said Brandy Bevins, owner of Erwin Outdoor Supply. “These things cannot be purchased anywhere else. We appreciate everyone that has shopped with us, shared our business on social media and told friends and family about our store. These are the people that keep us going.” According to Bowden, Union Street is leading the charge with First Friday.

“Right now it seems to be only the businesses on Union Street that participate like  Union Street  Gallery, Union Street Taproom and Erwin Outdoor,” Bowden said. “If Erwin can ever get retail establishments on Main Street instead of vacant buildings, hopefully future stores would be involved as well.” Union Street Gallery is scheduled to have a very special guest for First Friday. “We have a talented  jeweler coming,” Bowden said.

“We serve wine and packaged snacks, practice social distancing and request but not require masks and so far 99.9 percent of our customers  do mask up.”

For Bowden, the support of the community keeps the First Friday events going.

“We appreciate the support we get from locals,” Bowden said. “Covid has made it very, very trying but we’re still here and we’re not going anywhere.”

First Friday is set to run from 5 to 9 p.m. on the first Friday of each month. First Friday events are posted on social media. Bowden gives updates on her Union Street Gallery Facebook page, as well as through her advertising in The Erwin Record.