Friction at First Friday

If, as the saying goes, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the folks at the Market Square District Association are feeling pretty darn flattered.

Pamela Chips samples hummus at Vagabondia during First Friday.

Pamela Chips samples hummus at Vagabondia during First Friday on Market Square.

That is the group that came up with the idea and launched the “First Friday” program six years ago. It’s a simple concept. On the first Friday of each month, many shops and galleries downtown provide free snacks and often wine to patrons and encourage visitors to make a night of it by walking from venue to venue to check out the merchandise. There’s music some places and balloons decorate many of the entrances, creating a generally festive atmosphere.

It’s really caught on. This past Friday, Gay Street and Market Square were full of folks making the rounds. You’d stop and socialize when you’d run into friends and acquaintances as you popped from place to place and it was a very nice time.

Well, recognizing a good concept when they saw one, the folks seven miles to the west of downtown who call themselves The District in Bearden two years ago started their own First Friday activities. Same concept. Food, wine, even radio station remote broadcasts to attract and welcome patrons to the galleries and shops. Only difference is you really can’t walk between the locations in Bearden unless you want to risk your life trying to cross busy Kingston Pike. You must drive your car from place to place. But still, tons of fun as you see friendly faces and folks you know at every stop.

Customer Barbara Apking sips red wine while chatting with Diane Hanson, proprietor of Hanson's Fine Arts and Craft in Bearden

Customer Barbara Apking sips red wine while chatting with Diane Hanson, proprietor of Hanson's Fine Arts and Craft in Bearden

This has begun to grate on the nerves of the originators of the idea.

“First Friday was intended to be a downtown event that attracted people downtown,” says John Craig, president of the Market Square District Association. “With all the capital and sweat equity we’ve put into it, we take this seriously. I don’t understand their logic in the first place. Why split the audience when each of us could have a win?”

Craig says if the Bearden folks would pick a different day than the first Friday of each month for their event, the downtown group would even help them market it. “Why don’t they do it the second Saturday? Or the second Friday?” Craig asks.

Craig says he’s tried to discuss the issue with the Bearden group, but has not been successful. “They’ve just been kind of rude about it,” Craig says.

The Bearden group says it’s the downtown group that’s been more than rude. Bob McClellan, of M.S. McClellan clothing store, is head of The District in Bearden. He says his group received a “cease and desist” letter over the summer from a downtown intellectual property lawyer on behalf of the Market Square District Association.  “They threatened to sue us if we continued First Friday,” McClellan said. He said that letter “really pissed off” some members of his group and they voted not to back down. “There are First Fridays all over the country,” McClellan said. “There is no trademark to be had.”

In Bearden, Bob McClellan offers beer, water and snacks to his patrons on First Friday

In Bearden, Bob McClellan offers beer, water and snacks to his patrons on First Friday

For his part, McClellan said the Bearden businesses are not trying to attract customers away from downtown. “This appeals to our customer base – the customers we already have,” McClellan said. “Downtown has everything. They have parades. They have Market Square. They have the world on a string. We are just trying to create something for our area.”

When asked why the Bearden group chose the same night as the downtown group for their efforts, he said a marketing consultant suggested it. “We haven’t viewed it as competition – it’s just one more thing to do. A rising tide floats all boats.”

McClellan said that changing the day for First Friday in Bearden wasn’t a viable option this year because by the time the issue was raised, the group’s marketing materials already had been printed. And the lawyer letter seemed like a “strong-arm tactic” that caused his associates to dig in their heels. “The Market Square group has backed other groups off doing First Friday,” McClellan said. “But you can’t own First Friday.”

City Councilman Joe Hultquist discusses a chair with woodworker Bruce Bradford at the Emporium on Gay Street

City Councilman Joe Hultquist, left, discusses a chair with woodworker Bruce Bradford at the Emporium on Gay Street

The city of Knoxville even has gotten involved, trying to get the two groups to make nice. Mickey Mallonee, the city’s director of special events, arranged a meeting at Cafe Four with members of both groups. “It did not go well,” she said.

“Now they want to talk,” McClellan says by way of explanation. “You threaten to sue me and now you want to talk to me?”

Craig says he’s still hopeful that the two groups can come to some kind of agreement and actually support each other.

“We’re not shutting any doors,” McClellan said. He said that in February, the Bearden group will decide what they are going to do in 2010.

Side note: I visited about a dozen locations downtown and in Bearden on Friday night. Almost all of them were packed. The new Christmas merchandise was beautiful in all the shops. The art  (if not the wine!) was high quality. People were shopping and having fun in both parts of town.

Our friends Susan and Arthur Seymour say they make it a habit of going to both First Fridays every month. Arthur’s tip: start in Bearden, where activities are scheduled a little earlier, and end downtown where you can go all night if you want to.

Artist Erika Smith puts out nibbles at Bliss Home on Market Square where her art was on display

Artist Erika Smith puts out nibbles at Bliss Home on Market Square where her art was on display

 

Arlayne Collins pours champagne into a plastic cup at Gift + Gourmet in Bearden

Arlayne Collins pours champagne into a plastic cup at Gift + Gourmet in Bearden

 

The Naughty Knots performed at the Visitor Center on Gay Street Friday as WDVX celebrated its 12-year anniversary

The Naughty Knots performed at the Visitor Center on Gay Street Friday as WDVX celebrated its 12-year anniversary

 

David Burns and his little dog, Buddy, got into the spirit of First Friday on Market Square

David Burns and his little dog, Buddy, got into the spirit of First Friday on Market Square

25 Responses to “Friction at First Friday”

  1. Surely there’s enough First Friday to go around for everyone. I think coexistence is the way to go.

  2. Bearden’s event is hardly competition for downtown, so I don’t understand people getting their hair on fire over this. Still, we are talking about retail businesses during a depression.

    The folks in Bearden would seem to be innocent of economics when they schedule their own event to attract customers on the same night a widely popular, established event is doing not only exactly the same thing, but with a far more attractive and varied venue where people can actually walk everywhere instead of just driving up and down Kingston Pike like any other suburban strip mall corridor. How cool is that? Hey, I have a really great idea – Let’s go to the MALL!! We can even, you know, park and WALK AROUND there. Zowie!

    Even a little kid who wants to copy another kid’s lemonaide stand down the block has more sense than to do it on the same day and at the same time! How smart is it to go out of their way to create even more competition for themselves in a depression?

    There is surely some overlap in potential customers. Most of them simply aren’t going to go to both events, but are forced by Bearden to choose one over the other. Guess which one is going to win most of the time? If Bearden were to choose another night and come up with an original name for it, it seems likely to offer those who feel they have to choose between the two events an opportunity to attend both.

    Would Bearden schedule this during a football game? Are they going to hold a Christmas parade next on the same day as downtown? Same reasoning (or lack of it) applies here. One of the best stores is even being forced to compete with themselves by such a silly decision! One would hope that foolish pride and petty tribalism doesn’t prevent more sensible merchants in Bearden from rescheduling their event next year.

    At the margin this is hurting both events, not helping them.

  3. I hope this can be amically resolved. I have friends in both areas & shop in both areas. I admire Arthur & Susan for being able to do both in one night. I tried that once–whew!

  4. I’m of two minds on this issue. My semi-facetious comment on hearing of the conflict was “Hey, vehicleans need a place to go too.” However, I have my doubts about the offering of free wine by untrained servers to folks who HAVE to get into a car to go somewhere else. Of course, most of the downtown attendees don’t actually live downtown so the same thing could be said except that the downtown folk can walk around for a while, hours easily, before needing to get into a car.

    The biggest problem as I see it is identification. If someone were to be so vague as to say “meet me at the First Friday event”, their audience would not actually know where to go, even in general. And that, I would think, is the source of the ire that has been displayed by Craig and others. They have incurred the fiscal and physical costs of promoting awareness of the phrase and now find themselves having to promote a clarification.

    The other issue is that local happenings are a bit clumpy. I should think that separating the nights, if not weeks, would allow more different folks to participate in more different events and yes, in different areas of town. Seriously, how would “the District” feel if WTM and the other area shopping centers started promoting a first friday of their own that was likely to draw off clientele from them?

  5. MSDA could further confuse things and also start calling their location “the district,” taken straight from their acronym.

    I’M KIDDING.

    Seriously, I have friends and favorite shops in both locales and it does seem somewhat cannibalistic. Why not move Bearden’s night to the last Friday of the month and call it “Final Fridays”? Then we have two Fridays per month with weekend-kicking-off activities.

  6. I agree with Becky — space out the fun.

  7. Bearden is the cool area for people 45-75. Downtown skews far younger 23-40. There is no need for a fist fight over territory or any kind of “firsts.” As it is, y’all are messing around with people’s ability to share hummus and a five buck bottle of Chardonnay? Shame on everybody. As it is, people will go to the early seven o’clock “mixer” and then proceed to something later on in the evening. Lula and Tomato Head had a bit of a dilemma on sharing the same customers, but this is a ridiculous conversation and really should STOP. Does Knoxville need another SISTER city to show everyone the ropes? By the way, do I have to hire a lawyer to leave this response? (Why is my gut saying, YES, YES!)

  8. With both on one night, I’m only apt to hit one – downtown. If Bearden held theirs on another night, I’d give it a try..

    Too bad this became such a kerfuffle. I hope cooler heads prevail and a friendly compromise is reached so everyone benefits.

  9. Oh, by the way, we had an art mixer and fundraiser for Knox Heritage on the SAME NIGHT of the opening of The Knoxville Convention Center. Some said it wasn’t a good idea. Well, we have over 250 people show up through the night. Some even came in formal clothes, as they joined us after the Convention Center party. As others have said, people who are out often stay out and keep going. There is a lot to share.

  10. I live in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, one of the nation’s top art markets, and we have been doing successful First Friday’s for a couple of years. This concept isn’t something that anyone owns. Nearly every city I have been to has some sort of First Friday. When it is most successful is when there is a strong core of galleries that shares in the overall cost of marketing and hosting the events. Couldn’t both of these groups in Knoxville get together and pool their resources to create a bigger, better event? Co-op advertising, printed maps, and website cost sharing will only make everyone more visible. And staggering the openings is always a good idea; there is always an early bird crowd(those looking for food before it runs out) and a nite owl crowd(those that linger past the gallery’s posted hours, buzzed and chatty). Surely your warring art groups can work something out. It is in everyone’s best interest.
    Cheers

  11. Gee~ Maybe Fountain City could enter the fray and call ours Fountain City First Friday. . . afterall, we’ve arrived with our new, ginormous Kroger store.

  12. Hey, I’m with Randall. The really great thing is that the sense of community is spreading west. After yrs of snarling among Bearden businesses (“this is my schtick; how dare you try to mimic my schtick”–which, BTW, was not an attitude that, say, So-Ho suffered fr with it’s myriad of bookstores, galleries, restaurants), we are finally seeing a communal embrace. Maybe it will keep going and end up, wow, you know…global! Go Bearden! Go Fountain City! How about you guys in Turkey Creek (or are you up the creek w/o a paddle???)

  13. Just wait till Turkey Creek gets into the act!!

  14. I don’t see why the two cannot co-exist. If both are successful and well attended, what’s the problem? Maybe ego and turf?!?! hhhhhhmmmmm….Are you sure UT’s not in the middle of it somewhere?!

  15. Regina: Hahaha!

  16. Regina – that has been our position from day one. We are glad to co-exist, but we will not be talked down to and told what we will do. And we certainly will not cave to a threatening letter for a law firm. We feel that all areas of Knoxville…Fountain City, 4th and Gill, South Knox should do a First Friday. It would be a great reflection on Knoxville. There is room enough for everyone…we are a city of 250,000 and metro area of roughly 500,000.

  17. Johnson City also has First Fridays…start in Bearden, hit Market Square and the 100 block, finish at Nelson Fine Arts in JC? kidding…

    I am of the opinion that Bearden could have chosen a different night…Just as the historic neighborhoods try to avoid scheduling home tours on the same weekend.

  18. Lordy, Lordy, Lordy… and we expect peace in the Mideast to happen? Hope we don’t resort to eating our own in these anxious times. Share and share alike folks, and put the egos in a box for now. Bearden, don’t remain in a snit. Downtown, knock off with the legal saber rattling. You’ll feel much better.

  19. It is my understanding that The District in Bearden was ambushed by Mickey. That meeting was the first time anyone heard that MSDA felt they had the rights to FF and no one else. I do not believe “The City “even knew she was trying to force TDIB to change their night! It should be the more the merrier. It would be much better for the city as a whole to have options all over for everyone to enjoy. There is no competition between these two groups and there shouldn’t be. There is enough for everyone to go around. Also, I do not believe there is any confusion as to where to meet someone at a First Friday Event! Whether at MS or TDIB you are still going to plan on meeting at a specific location! Come on, give people more credit then that! Drop it and I hope to see you on First Friday wherever you choose go!

  20. Rumor has it that folks in the Gallery Shopping Center and surroundings who have been declined inclusion in the Bearden District are considering forming the West Hills District and adding their own flavor to First Friday mix.

  21. No one has ever been declined inclusion into The District in Bearden. The more First Friday events the better.

  22. “Downtown has everything.”

    Knoxville, please take a moment and savor that statement.

  23. Matt: I completely agree. Who ever thought we’d hear someone say that? And also that downtown has “the world on a string.” It’s wonderful, really, isn’t it? And amazing.

  24. Guess I am going to have to stop proclaiming Downtown Knoxville as the “best looking corpse in the area”. It has come a long way these past years and is looking pretty lively these days. By the bye, Bearden is on a pretty good roll too. The best to both worlds. Each has it’s place.

  25. I can only offer my perspective based on how business has changed over the last three years on First Friday’s downtown. We have held a couple of events to get into the spirit of First Friday and had mixed results. If I compare sales on First Friday from 2006 to 2009, sales were up by a couple thousand dollars back then (they are still good, though).

    Discussing the issue with other prominent downtown residents and talkers, I’m told that there is less businesses participating than when it started (presumably due to poor economy). Giving away free wine and food being a harder thing for people to do.

    Did it have anything to do with TDIB’s event? My business is kind of immune to these issues since we are both an early evening restaurant and a late night lounge/nightclub mixture.

    I just hope Turkey Creek doesn’t get into this act. We have enough trouble getting people to drive all the way downtown and then they have to *GASP* walk! Knoxville is such a vehicle driven (no pun intended) town. The beauty of downtown is that unlike every other area in Knoxville, it is an area that you can walk from place to place and not feel like you’re next to the interstate (ironic because you are!).

    When I was in SoHo in NYC this April, even though it’s divided by a massive street down the middle, it’s still easily walkable. I wish for a day that other areas of Knoxville can gain that same spirit.

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