Bigger, better Thursdays on First planned this summer


A bigger and better Thursdays on First is in store for Rochester this year, say organizers of the weekly event.

"I think we probably have some people staying home because it's crowded," said Jon Eckhoff, director of the Rochester Downtown Alliance (RDA), which runs the weekly summer festival. It starts its 13-week run on June 9.

The plan this year is to expand the event grounds to relieve sidewalk crowding without increasing the number of vendors. Thursdays on First will have about the same 118 booths as last year.

The added space also will expand the areas for people to watch stage performances.

"Extra space in front of the stages is something we've heard loud and clear," Eckhoff said.


The extra space comes from partly closing off First Avenue Southwest between Center Street and Second Street, and pushing the north and south boundaries of the event grounds slightly farther than before.

On the block of Peace Plaza near the Kahler Grand Hotel, vendor booths are being rearranged to a single-wide line, rather than double-wide. That helps the event conform to fire code regulations, but also frees space for people to walk through an area that occasionally got gridlocked.

The same goes for the block of First Avenue immediately south of Peace Plaza — another area frequently choked with pedestrians. Closing the street, except for one lane to reach the Marriott Hotel, allows the RDA to put more space between vendors' booths and the sidewalk.

Thursdays on First has been the RDA's signature event, drawing an average of 12,000 to 15,000 people per week.

The temptation might have been there to expand the event simply to squeeze in more sales space. Instead, the RDA added space to address concerns about comfort, safety and mobility, particularly handicapped mobility.

"We're not in this to make money as an organization," Eckhoff said. "We're in this to provide a positive experience for our community."

Also, the RDA wanted to "maintain the ambiance that has made Thursdays on First popular," said Heidi Mestad, the organization's director of communications and community engagement.

The RDA will re-evaluate vendors this year in a juried process that requires each vendor to personally make 85 percent to 90 percent of the products they sell.


"That adds to the authenticity of the artists that we have in the market, and also helps make it unique," Mestad said.

The RDA started taking applications from vendors on Friday, Eckhoff said.

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