First Friday brings students into downtown culture

Downtown Waco is gearing up for First Friday happening tonight on Austin Avenue. The Baylor vs SMU game will be shown at the Hippodrome. There will also be discounts at participating stores. Additionally, there will be live music for all to enjoy. Photo credit: Trey Honeycutt

The first First Friday Waco event of the school year will take place today, starting around 10:30 a.m. and running until 2 a.m. at various venues downtown.

On the first Friday of every month, assorted downtown restaurants and businesses offer discounts, extended hours and special events to festival-goers. Among the 11 participants today are the Waco Hippodrome Theatre, Anthem Artisan Market, Portofino’s and Sascee’s.

Each business will be open until at least 7:30 p.m. with many, like Anthem Artisan Market and Papillon Antiques, featuring live music. The Baylor vs. SMU game will be broadcast at the Hippodrome at 6 p.m. for free, closely followed by a live Dueling Pianos performance. A jazz band will be playing at Sascee’s from noon to 2 p.m., and there will be karaoke at The CAST from 7 to 9 p.m. A full calendar of these and other events can be found on First Friday Waco’s Facebook page.

Peter and Summer Ellis, the owners of Anthem Artisan Market and Summer Ellis Bijouterie, founded the monthly festival in the spring of 2013 after seeing a need to build community among the businesses taking root downtown.

“We realized that business is moving downtown, and we really need to support the community and each other,” Peter said.

Since 2013, First Friday has doubled in attendance and new businesses have contributed to the event’s size and appeal, Ellis said.

“Two years later we have consistent efforts from the merchants downtown,” Peter said. “New businesses are even opening with First Friday being part of their launch.”

Local business owners view First Friday and its specialized events as an opportunity to become involved in the Waco community.

“We’re trying to give something special to do to people who are coming downtown,” said Marcia Neal, owner of Sascee’s.

While the evening is an opportunity to take in local food and entertainment, it is also a time for local businesses to support one another. Neal said she tells her customers to visit stores like Bjoy Bijoux after they finish eating at her restaurant.

“We’re for each other, and we network for each other,” Neal said.

First Friday also allows Baylor students to become part of this close-knit Waco community.

“Students are a part of Waco and First Friday,” Peter said. “They’re not spectators, they’re participants.”

Business owners welcome the influx of students to Friday’s event.

“Downtown just becomes livelier,” said Mary Helen George, owner of Papillon Antiques. “It’s a welcome back. I’m putting up a new display of Baylor items, and we’re going to put out our Baylor flag.”

Baylor students are enthusiastic to join in First Friday’s events as well. Although Fort Worth sophomore Caroline Grace has not attended the festival in the past, she said she is eager to take part this coming Friday.

“I am going this weekend,” Grace said. “It’s downtown, so that’s really convenient for Baylor students. And there’s going to be live music, and I’m definitely going to do that.”