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Merchants hope customers respond to 'First Friday'

July 21, 2005|by DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ

daniels@herald-mail.com

First, there was Thursday Night out on the Town. Then, First Friday's Open Market Shopping Festival. And now: First Friday's-Flamingo Style.

"Each Friday would be not just 'First Friday's, there'll be some people in the square,' but make it special," said Steve Colby, owner of Off the Deep End at 339 W. Antietam St.

The members of Destination Hagerstown, a group of downtown Hagerstown merchants seeking to generate foot traffic to their stores, conceded Wednesday night their efforts to stimulate interest in the business district with live entertainment, extended hours and in-store promotions have been unsuccessful.

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Starting in June, the group moved the events from the second Thursday of the month to the first Friday of the month under the premise that more people would spend time downtown on Fridays because they do not have to work on Saturdays.

Deborah Everhart, director of economic development for the City of Hagerstown, said she believed part of the reason the first two Fridays were unsuccessful was they conflicted with other things, including the kickoff of the Western Maryland Blues Fest in June and the July 4 holiday weekend.

Valerie Minteer, owner of Cloak & Cupboard Antiques at 20 Public Square, said too few merchants are participating in the event, minimizing the draw for residents who would consider going downtown. She said several merchants, including some food vendors, committed to participating but backed out.

"We had confirmed quite a number of people who were going to participate, who were going to come out on the Square and bring their things and they just didn't show," Minteer said.

In an effort to deter merchants from backing out of the events, the group agreed to charge merchants a refundable deposit they would forfeit unless they participate.

Colby suggested the events are too generic and that more people might come out if each Friday were different. The group embraced the concept and settled on the Flamingo-themed event, including free leis, possibly a steel-drum band and a tiki bar with non-alcoholic margaritas, for the Aug. 5 event.

"You just have to make it so different and neat and cool that people just want to be there," Everhart said.

Minteer said even though the events have not been successful she believes they are generating interest and will, over time, take hold in the community.

"It's a little disappointing, but, again, we'll just try again," she said. "It's going to take some time. It's not going to happen overnight; none of this is going to happen overnight."

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