By Richard Rourk

June 7 will be a busy evening in downtown Erwin as another First Friday celebration will be in full swing from 5-9 p.m. According to Sharee Perciful, owner of What’s the Scoop, the event was created to enhance the downtown Erwin experience.

“I want to acknowledge that while going through the Co-Starters class with Jan Bowden (co-owner of Union Street Gallery, LLC) we both were slightly concerned about the lack of foot traffic that appeared to be in downtown Erwin,” Perciful said. “However, I knew that it was a community that supported small businesses and we could envision the growth. I recall having a conversation with Jan about the importance of cohesion amongst small businesses and as we were opening businesses near the same time, we needed to figure out something fun to do in the downtown area to bring people to our doorsteps.”

Perciful said it was Bowden who created First Friday.

“Jan, with her infinite creativity, suggested First Friday and she pioneered First Friday on her own in the fall of 2018,” Perciful said. “As we opened back up in the spring of 2019 we asked Jan if we could join in on her First Friday and make it a movement with downtown merchants and she was in full support.”

According to Bowden, the decision to start First Friday was an easy one to make.

“The main goal for me is getting locals to shop downtown,” Bowden said. “At First Friday I offer free libations to get customers in the door, but in the end you want them to shop.”

According to Perciful, businesses have joined together to help the monthly event to continue to evolve.

“Each downtown business has been supportive, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the turnout,” Perciful said.

Other local business owners see the benefits for First Friday.

“We love how our community comes together to make Erwin an especially fun place to be on First Fridays,” Whisk Bakery co-owner Ali Wainwright said. “When the community comes together, we all benefit.”

Union Street Tap Room co-owner Tara Baker agrees.

“First Friday to us is an evening where we can meet new customers that may have not come to the tap room otherwise,” Baker said. “It is also an opportunity for us to be part of a group that is trying to move downtown Erwin forward.”

Perciful told The Erwin Record what First Friday means for What’s The Scoop.

“For us, First Friday is invaluable in creating a cohesive community and a desirable place to live,” Perciful said. “Our business motto has always been to create a place for people to gather. As our window says we’re a ‘Community HUB – Unplug – Fellowship – Recharge’ and we want people to feel that in each event we are participating in as a community. We see First Friday as a time for families, singles, couples and anybody in between to come downtown to hang out, shop, eat and enjoy valuable time together without the worry of travel.”

For Carmen Rosa, co-owner of A Crystal Generation, First Friday is a cohesive movement by the community and local merchants.

“We at A Crystal Generation love our First Friday events because it brings our community together and gives the merchants the opportunity to get to know our neighbors and build a bigger better Erwin,” Rosa said. “We at A Crystal Generation offer several crafting classes and different events to continue to get to know and build relationships with those in our community, and the community can look for us and events on our Facebook page.”

Erwin Outdoor Supply co-owner Brandy Bevins agrees with Rosa.

“For Erwin Outdoor Supply, First Friday is about creating a cohesive community and a downtown that allows locals to enjoy where they live,” Bevins said. “It’s also giving our customers the ability to have a place to get all their outdoor needs met while hiking the Appalachian Trail or rafting the Nolichucky.”

Bevins stressed the value of staying open later on First Friday.

“Having the ability to stay open late alongside other downtown merchants and create a welcoming environment for tourists and natives is a great thing,” Bevins said.

So far First Friday events have had several milestones and highlights.

“The highlight for First Friday is the ability to have entertainment at our own downtown community,” Perciful said. “Each First Friday merchants downtown will have extended hours, promotions and some will have additional entertainment.” 

Perciful explained that The Gathering Place will have events lined up to include live music, yoga, chair massages and much more. There will also be food trucks.

Perciful also said there are businesses outside of the downtown district that are participating in First Fridays and the downtown merchants look forward to their support and the services they have to offer to our community on these special nights. 

Local businesses want to stress that First Friday is family-friendly and the community can find something for everyone.

“​There are things for all ages, and we’re excited to see what is happening in downtown and love to see the support of the community throughout the transition,” Perciful said. “Our shop offers the ability to have parties and off-site catered events, and we also have over 200 board games for customers to play with the purchase of a daily board game pass.”

Baker agreed with Perciful.

“We would love for everyone to know that we are a family-friendly establishment and we (Union Street Taproom) welcome every member of our community to come visit with us,” Baker said. “We offer a wide variety of snacks and soft drinks.”

Wainwright is appreciative of the support from the community.

“We (Whisk Bakery) appreciate every single purchase that is made on First Friday,” Wainwright said. “Every purchase you make at a small business goes to support a local family, and that is so meaningful.”

According to Wainwright, Whisk is looking forward to serving Erwin.

“We’re very grateful to be included in such a wonderful group of downtown business merchants,” Wainwright said. “(Whisk co-owner Heather Higgins) and I have felt welcome since the day we announced we would be opening our bakery.”

The Erwin Cruise-In returns to Main Avenue on Friday, June 7, and the community is encouraged to come out and see some of the best vehicles from the past and present.

Also on Friday, several local businesses will offer the community great deals. CHIPS Thrift Store will be offering a 20 percent discount and A Crystal Generation will be open late and Beauty by MC will have half-off offers for a later date. Erwin Outdoor Supply will have a book signing from acclaimed author Bev Clay Freeman. Russell Cellular Verizon Wireless will have a special fundraiser that will benefit Unicoi County High School. Steel Rails Coffee House will be open late and will host Whisk Bakery. The Bramble will be hosting a send-off for Miss Unicoi County Kourtney Bailey and Miss Unicoi Sarah Grace Larkey as they head off to represent Unicoi County in the upcoming Miss Tennessee Pageant. The Gathering Place will have chair massages by Southern Touch Massage and yoga by Here & Now Motherhood. First Friday pioneers Union Street Gallery, LLC will be hosting local jeweler Heather Conn, What’s The Scoop will be hosting Creative Canvas, along with face painting, and Union Street Tap Room will have a food truck on site and your favorite tap.

First Friday merchants are extremely thankful for all the support they get from the community. “We would like to thank the Town of Erwin and all of our guests,” Baker said. “The overwhelming support for Union Street Tap Room locally and regionally has really made us feel like we are part of the positive moment happening in our region.”

Perciful agreed with Baker.

“First Friday would be impossible without the support of the Town of Erwin, RISE and the Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce,” Perciful said. “Each organization has offered suggestions and talents that have assisted in organizing the events, and we appreciate other business owners throughout Unicoi County who have reached out to get involved.”

According to Perciful, the community is encouraged to come out and enjoy family-friendly fun. Perciful explained that First Friday continues to grow.

“Russell Cellular/Verizon Wireless location in Unicoi will be hosting movie nights on First Fridays in the months of July, August and September,” Perciful said. 

For more information or to keep up with updates for future First Fridays, please follow ThisisErwin on Facebook.

“If you’re a business owner, artist or creative and want to be involved please reach out to us on social media on the ThisisErwin Facebook page and get involved,” Perciful said.

You can also follow most businesses in downtown Erwin on Facebook to keep up to date with their promotions.