Westerville News & Public Opinion

Successful Fourth Friday pivots to 'Uptown Fridays'

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Piggybacking on the success of Westerville's Fourth Friday celebrations in the city's Uptown District, businesses in the district are staying open late each Friday from May through September to give every Friday of the month a feel of celebration in Uptown.

The Westerville Uptown Merchants Association sees the idea for "Uptown Fridays" as an opportunity to give the city's historic business district a more vivid nightlife, following on the success of the once-a-month Fourth Friday celebrations.

Now every weekend will kick off with "Uptown Fridays" -- each with its own entertainment theme and with shops in the district staying open later than usual.

"People kept saying, 'How come nobody's open," on the other Friday nights of the month, WUMA President Debbie Bennati said, noting that her business, A Gal Named Cinda Lou has always been open until 7 p.m., while most shops close earlier.

The themes of each week, Bennati hopes, will draw unique guests, and provide an individual reason to come to Uptown each week.

The first Friday of each month will be "Cruise Uptown," where car and motorcycle enthusiasts can show off their vehicles. Union Savings Bank, 44 S. State St., will provide its parking lot to the drivers, and members of the Westerville Lions Club volunteered to assist drivers.

The second Friday's theme is "Arts Uptown," an evening that Bennati compared to Columbus' Gallery Hop. Paintings, sculptures, jewelry and food preparation will all be featured, and presentations will take place in front of businesses along the street.

The third Fridays will feature "Unplugged Uptown." Here, WUMA is looking for local musicians, magicians, performers and even flash mobs to perform in an "unplugged" sense, Bennati said.

While turnout for the first few weeks of the series hasn't brought the numbers organizers are hoping for, attendance has increased each week. And Bennati is confident that when the weather improves, people will come.

"Every Friday it's been cold, so just like anything else, when you start something new, it takes people some time to realize," she said. "As soon as it gets warm, people will be out hanging out. There just aren't as many people out getting ice cream cones when it's cold."

Bennati said the hope is that businesses in Uptown can attract a different crowd from those who don't want or can't go to the larger, busier Fourth Fridays.

"A lot of people with kids come and walk around with strollers," she said. "On Fourth Fridays, foot traffic is so phenomenal and we get so many people that sometimes it's harder for people with a stroller or elderly folks to walk around. So it gives people a chance who can't come on Fourth Fridays because of long distance parking and all of that stuff."

While traffic's been light, those who have attended the new Fridays have had good things to say.

"People on Facebook have given us comments saying that it's great, or 'I really like this,' or 'This is a good idea,' or things like that," Bennati said.

Those interested in participating or performing at one of the Fridays can contact Bennati at Westervilleuptownmerchantsprez@aol.com or at her business, 20 N. State St.

Meanwhile, this week marks the normal Fourth Friday that's been staged for several years by the Westerville Visitors & Convention Bureau, now sponsored by OhioHealth, and supported by the city of Westerville, Arts Council of Westerville and the Westerville Public Library.

"Back to Nature" is the theme for the May 23 event.

Displays featuring ideas for outdoor fun will set up along State Street and College Avenue from 6 to 9 p.m.

The Church of the Messiah United Methodist will offer a 7:30 p.m. tour of the stained glass windows inside the church at 51 N. State St. The tours will be repeated throughout the summer month Fourth Fridays.

More information is available on the Visitors Bureau website, visitwesterville.org.

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