Monthly event illuminates bustling streets of Waco

By Meredith Wagner | Arts & Life Editor

The streets of downtown Waco bustled Friday with hungry and excited Wacoans anticipating a night of surprises, conversation and free gimmicks of all sorts. The dark sky lingered in the air, illuminated by lights pouring from businesses that remained open well beyond 5 p.m.

Every first Friday of the month, businesses lining the streets of downtown Waco open their doors to passersby crowding the sidewalks, many of which post discounts or specials on their products and prepare spreads of food and drink and interactive activities.

One of the participating businesses last Friday was Wildland Supply Co. at 712 Washington Ave. Wildland owner Kate Duncan said enjoys spicing up first Friday and exercising her creativity in the process.

“I go all out,” she said over the speakers, which were momentarily blaring ‘I Will Survive’ by Gloria Gaynor. “It’s an experience,” she added.

Duncan said she likes to build a theme for each First Friday event. In the past, she has hosted a nighttime brunch, for which she served breakfast food as the sky blanketed Waco with darkness. Duncan’s Valentine’s Day-inspired theme on Friday was meant to inspire self-care and habits that promote positivity.

“Our theme is ‘Get Happy’,” Duncan said. “Everything in here is designed to make you happier.”

In one corner lay fruit kabobs and kale chips, the accompanying placards explaining the happiness-promoting properties of the foods. In the other corner, a holistic aesthetician who specializes in reflexology administered free hand massages using essential oils and body oils that Wildland sells in the store. Beyond the central seating, illuminated in front of the all-white walls, was a station for creating Valentine’s Day cards because, again, “Sharing positive feelings with other people makes you happy,” Duncan said.

Not all businesses create themes for First Friday. Each business is entitled to host an event or a special offering of their choice, which makes walking around downtown Friday night an exciting and suspenseful endeavor. One will likely feel surprised by what they find.

Next door to Wildland, Houston native Sara Martin welcomed passersby into her own specialty store called Gather, which sells a creative compilation of various products meant to inspire connection and creativity in the home.

Gather has had an open storefront for nearly four months at 719 Washington Ave. Martin said Gather’s inventory is selected to match a central theme. She described her products as unique, high-quality items that are both locally and American-made.

“It’s everything to entertain at home, to compliment the dishware, to inspire a lifestyle where you’re letting people in your house and making beautiful things.”

Martin’s First Friday featured water colorist Shelby Pipken, a Baylor graduate who created Valentine’s cards at an extensive table standing proudly in the storefront window. If shoppers bought one of Pipken’s cards, she inscripted a calligraphic note of their choice on the inside. Gather also featured a spread of Valentine’s Day-themed food and drinks.

Sara’s husband Johnathan Martin owns Black Oak Art, a Waco business that creates large-volume, wholesale pottery and ceramics for local businesses including Magnolia and Common Grounds, and other retailers around the country. According to Sara, Gather serves as a space for herself and her husband to sell their own line of dishware. Sara also owns an event planning business called Kindred Event Studio, which specializes in weddings, in addition to planning galas and fundraising events.

“This was kind of the marriage of both of our businesses – his line of functional art, and my line of entertaining,” Martin said.

Martin said she chooses what to do for First Friday based upon the season, usually trying to bring in creative people to do something interactive that her customers can enjoy. For Martin, First Friday is a unique event that brings those from the community together to slow down and enjoy one another’s company.

“During the day, people are in and out. They want to shop,” she said. “But this is more – they come, they stay, they talk. It really gets people to make the rounds and go to businesses that they might not go to.”

One street over on Austin Avenue, a live jazz band blared through the open doors of Cultivate 7twelve, local art gallery and event space, drawing passerby in to munch on snacks and enjoy the debut of their new exhibit, “Meet the Oswalds.”

“Meet the Oswalds” is a compilation of artwork by Sean and Hillary Oswald, local married artists who together pursue careers as artists but separately develop their own styles.

Sean and Hillary met in art school at Miami University in Ohio. They have since lived in New York and Cincinnati and were drawn to Waco just one year ago when Hillary was offered a job at Magnolia as a display artist. Sean said that although neither of them are exactly interested in being “gallery” artists, they both have created pieces that fit into the gallery scene. When owner of Cultivate 7twelve Rebekah Hagman reached out to them with the idea for the gallery, they couldn’t pass it up.

Sean and Hillary’s work includes still life oil paintings, pastel drawings of trees and multimedia work including thread, paint and ink. A hand-stitched fabric display illuminated by twinkling lights stood in the corner.

Sean said Hillary was not present for their First Friday debut because she was taking care of their 4-month-old daughter Beatrice at home. Sean said he had never explored downtown on First Friday because he and Hillary are usually home caring for Beatrice.

“Friday nights, we just go to bed,” he said laughing.

One of Sean’s charcoal drawings, a frontal view of Beatrice’s face leaning against his shoulder, hung near the doorway.

Now that the collectiong has been debuted, “Meet the Oswalds” is on display in the upstairs gallery at 712 Austin Ave. for viewing.

Many other businesses kept their lights on and their doors open First Friday night, welcoming interested guests to their after-hours events.

The next ‘First Friday’ is scheduled for March 2. Updates can be found on the event’s Facebook page, @FirstFridayWaco, or their twitter @FirstFridayWaco.