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Downtown Salisbury Inc. changes calendar to focus on larger events

SALISBURY — Downtown Salisbury Inc.’s calendar has included First Friday for the past five years, said Katelin Rice, events coordinator for the agency.

“And for a while, it was very successful,” Rice said. “It gave our community members an opportunity to visit our businesses after hours, engage in different sorts of activities, and it was great.”

But Rice said in recent years, downtown business owners have said First Friday attendance has declined.

“So it was at that point that we, as an organization, felt that we needed to look at the big picture and say, ‘OK, what works and what doesn’t?’” Rice said.

Rice said the organization began that discussion late last year.

“We said, ‘OK, what is a draw? Which of these events gives people a reason to come out every time, every year? And why is that? Why do they work?’” Rice said.

After months of evaluation, Rice said, the foundation has decided to focus on bigger events that will give the organization “more bang for our buck.”

“These are events that have a theme. They have activities and offerings that intrigue people and make them want to bring their families out,” Rice said.

The updated calendar has 11 “large” events throughout the year, including old favorites like Wine About Winter, Buskers Bash and Gallery Gallop.

“It really isn’t less than what it was when it was First Fridays. We don’t have less events. We have larger events that aren’t limited to the First Friday date,” Rice said.

Rice said she hopes to keep the updated schedule consistent so residents and business owners can mark their calendars and plan ahead.

“But our thought was, rather than spending a small amount of money each month on a small event, why not figure out a way to put these funds and these resources and our staff together and really leverage the opportunity that we have in front of us,” Rice said.

Since the foundation entered into a public-private partnership with the city, it has had access to more resources and a closer partnership with the Parks and Recreation Department.

That means it can host both traditionally successful events and new larger events like the Cheerwine Festival and, in 2019, a multicultural festival.

“So that’s the reasoning for this. If we’re going to have an event, shouldn’t we set out with a goal of bringing a thousand people downtown rather than a couple hundred on a First Friday?” Rice said. “To me, that seems like a better use of resources.”

Rice said the change was “by no means” her or foundation Director Larissa Harper’s decision alone. She said it was the decision of the promotions committee, which she said is “a mix of downtown business owners and community members” — and then the DSI board.

“And it was almost unanimous,” Rice said. “The board agreed that this is something new that they felt could be highly successful.”

Rice said she wants the public to realize that downtown — and downtown business owners — are here even if it’s not a First Friday.

“They don’t have to be downtown just because it’s First Friday,” Rice said. “They don’t have to come have dinner at one of our restaurants or grab a beer somewhere just because it’s a First Friday. We’re always here.”

Harper said the foundation’s job is more than facilitating events. It also acts as an advocate for business owners, helps with business retention, and offers assistance and advice for first-time business owners.

“DSI has a broader mission and vision that will improve economic development activities in a variety of ways,” Harper said.

Rice and Harper said more information about upcoming events will be released as they approach.

Contact reporter Jessica Coates at 704-797-4222.

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