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First Friday organizers chalk up downtown business success to networking and exposure

Tony Casey • Updated Sep 3, 2015 at 8:44 AM

Month after month throughout the downtown Johnson City streets there are many options for fun and games, but organizers of the monthly First Friday events also like to get down to business — small, local business, that is.

First Friday, when downtown Johnson City streets are closed for a few hours on the first Friday of nearly every month for local business-themed activities, is no different this week.

“Main Street USA” is the theme for the 6-9 p.m. event that will close off the 200 and 300 blocks of East Main Street, as a block of South Roan Street.

Deanna Hays, director of the Blue Plum Festival and the year’s batch of First Fridays, says she’s been hitting the pavement between each business, handing out fliers and trying to talk those that aren’t already doing so into staying open later for the visitors who frequent the event.

“It’s a great time to offer specials to loyal clientele and the newcomers, too,” Hays said. She said many participating businesses do well in reaping the benefits of being part of First Friday.

Not only putting her efforts into the event, Hays will literally put her blood into it, too. On Friday, the Red Cross Blood Mobile will be parked in front of the Lady of the Fountain, on the corner of Buffalo and East Main streets. This will be part of the Red Cross’ and WJHL’s Battle of the Badges in honor of 9/11 first responders. Hays said she loves giving blood because it helps out others without her really losing anything, a win-win situation.

The “I gave blood” sticker that will be handed out might earn more than life for another person. Hays said downtown restaurants and retail establishments are looking at offering specials for those who took the time to donate.

Some of the other aspects that will make up the fun in downtown Johnson City for those three hours include treats from Mona Lisa’s Gelato, an introduction to an up-and-coming and soon-to-be-opening downtown business — Faces by Ren and Keith Dixon Studios, tie-dyed T-shirts led by Hays’ daughter, demonstrations with the Johnson City Rugby Football Club, a climbing wall, and an opportunity to compete in a giant Jenga or Connect 4 game.

Music will be provided by The Company Stores, a Hill Hop band from Charleston, West Virginia, known for providing dance music that mixes several types of genres on Southern music.

One of the things most exciting to the event’s director is the inclusion of sidewalk chalk and pavement art, being led by LaDonna West, who owns and directs Johnson City’s MOMAC Studio. With several of her students, West is going to be seeing how the general public takes to pavement art.

There will be 3D displays put together in front of the Hands On! Regional Museum by West and her students, as well as available sidewalk chalk for First Friday attendees who want to try their hand at the pastel-colored pieces.

“We get a lot of media down here at the studio for the students to try new things,” West said, noting that they’ve been practicing their work and are ready to let it loose on Johnson City’s downtown streets. If all goes well with the pavement art, West and Hays both could envision a festival centered on sidewalk chalk.

Email Tony Casey at tcasey@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow Tony Casey on Twitter @TonyCaseyJCP. Like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tonycaseyjournalist.

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