By Steve Novotney
More than 30 businesses in downtown, Centre Market, East Wheeling, and North Wheeling are set to participate in this evening’s First Friday event.
First Fridays, an effort to connect the public with locally owned businesses in Wheeling’s downtown district, was implemented six years ago by the Downtown Marketing Group, a conglomerate that includes the city of Wheeling, the Wheeling Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Wheeling Chamber of Commerce, and the Wheeling National Heritage Area Corp.
Free transportation is available beginning at 4:30 p.m., and the trolley travels a continuous loop between downtown Wheeling, Centre Wheeling, and the East Wheeling and North Wheeling neighborhoods.
“This month’s First Friday is going to be very special because of all of the activities now taking place,” explained Olivia Litman from the CVB. “Families can visit Centre Market and take part in a lot of activities without spending a penny.
“The horse-and-carriage rides are free, the Talking Christmas Tree is free, and so is visiting with Santa Claus,” she said. “The whole idea behind First Friday was to get the people out of their houses and to one of the areas of Wheeling where these events are taking place.”
In addition to the Christmas-related activities at Centre Market, the Wheeling Nailers face off against Utah at Wesbanco Arena (7:30 p.m.), and the Ohio Valley Children’s Museum will stage “Teen Night.” T-shirt printing and woodworking are two of the featured activities planned. A performance by the Allegro Dance Co. is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. as well.
“Although there’s a lot for people to do on First Fridays, there is that group of children between the ages of 12 and 17 who are either too young or too old to participate,” Litman explained. “So the Children’s Museum developed these activities in the hope that they could engage the kids of that age.”
Wine tastings, live and local entertainment, menu and drink specials, and retail sales are all common attractions on First Fridays in Wheeling.
“When we first started this event, we only had about five or six businesses that actively participated,” Litman recalled. “But now that list seems endless because the owners and the public have caught on to what these areas of Wheeling have to offer. Most of the businesses extend their hours on First Friday, too.
“It has taken five years for First Fridays to be something of a household name, but that’s because the people who started it and organize it made a decision to keep it going,” she said. “We added a few special events that coincided with a few First Fridays every year, and those events have attracted some nice crowds.”
The “Party on the Patio” is held twice per year, and the “Clean Crawl” was staged in May.
“First Fridays will continue and nothing is going to be changed from how we go about offering what we offer now,” Litman said. “But the future popularity is up to the businesses that participate.
“We’ll promote the event and help get people out and to these businesses, but we can’t guarantee customers will go back a second or third time. That’s up to the business,” Litman continued. “These local businesses have the opportunity to shine on evenings like these, and my hope is that First Fridays get bigger and better each month because that means more businesses are getting involved.
“That was the original reason why we started First Fridays in the first place. It was all about facilitating that connection between the public and our local businesses.”