I experienced my first Bethlehem First Friday on June 7th. This summer is the first chance I had to go, and, honestly, I hadn’t heard of it before that week. Man, was I missing out! I spent most of my time at Domaci perusing the maps, posters, and vinyl floor covers while snacking on popcorn and wishing that I could buy everything I saw. But before I walked into Domaci, I walked around Third and Fourth streets exploring all of the local businesses that had First Friday programming for the night. Music streamed from storefronts and “First Friday” signs were everywhere I looked. This was definitely the Bethlehem I had missed out on, and it was incredible to finally immerse myself in the place I’d been living for two years.
When I got to Domaci, I learned that First Friday experienced a bit of a resurgence over the past few years. As Mike Decrosta of Southside Arts District explained, there has been a concerted effort to increase both the vendor and resident participation in First Friday. The result? Southside feeling like “your downtown” again for Bethlehem residents. Mike mentioned that, in addition to the increased turnout for First Friday and the heightened involvement by local vendors, it is worth celebrating the groups of people coming out to the Southside. Local college and high school students are everywhere, he explained.
June’s First Friday was a celebration of the LGBTQ+ community – the theme of the night was “Show Your LGBTQ Pride.” Color Me Mine and Domaci both gave a portion of sales that night to the Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce LGBTQ Business Council.
Eileen O’Brennan’s drag performance was the highlight of the night. You could hear the music blasting out onto the street, which was, in part, responsible for the immediate flow of people into the store. The performance was electrifying! We frantically snapped pictures and stifled laughter when the small walkways grew more difficult to navigate as more people came to the store.
But, Domaci’s First Friday event wasn’t just music and a drag show: local businesses had representatives stationed throughout the store, either selling products or giving out free samples. Franklin Hill Vineyards gave out drinks; Urbano Mexican Kitchen and Bar set up snacks; and, Clusters Handcrafted Popcorn had, you guessed it, popcorn. There were also independent pop-up shops with businesses including Inktruffle Pottery, Periwinkle Flower Farm, and Zen Chocolate.
I met Rachel Borene, a potter and pottery teacher who had set up a pop-up shop selling all sorts of mugs. She runs Inktruffle, which sells “functional, handmade pottery to add a unique touch to your mug collection.” Like me, this was Borene’s first time at First Friday, and she already “love[d] it.” She explained that the entire event, spanning throughout South Bethlehem, was “friendly, comfortable, and open-minded,” and she had the chance to meet a ton of great people. While we were talking, one of her students walked up to the booth, neither of them expecting to see the other. But that wasn’t just happening at Borene’s pottery booth: all over Domaci, friends and family were meeting up, celebrating the free popcorn, and looking at the vintage posters and knick knacks along the store shelves.
And, really, that’s what First Friday felt like: community. Not a soul felt out of place, and Mike was right–it felt like our downtown.
Bethlehem’s next First Friday will be on August 2nd. You can learn more about the event here.
Feature photo credits: Sara Boyd