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'First Fridays' celebration draws another big crowd to Downtown Norfolk

Business owners and organizers shared lessons learned from last month's event.

NORFOLK, Va. — Another "First Fridays" in Downtown Norfolk is in the books. The party stretching 16 blocks brought thousands of people to Granby Street for the second time this year.

"I'm ready to go. I'm ready. I'm prepared," said Alfonso Simmons of Norfolk. 

Live entertainment, an outdoor market and activities kept everyone busy. This comes after thousands showed out for the comeback installment in August.

"And I'm mad that I missed it, so I'm here to reclaim my time with this Friday," said Terrell Pruden of Norfolk. 

"There were about 5,000 people here last month, it does seem a little less [tonight]," said Christy Marron, owner of Grace O'Malley's Irish Pub & Restaurant. "Part of it is Labor Day. Some people are out of town visiting. The Oceanfront is, of course, drawing a lot of folks. But this is still a tremendous turnout."

That turnout is crucial to boosting business at surrounding bars and restaurants.

Marron told us her sales jumped about 50 percent during the August "First Fridays" event. And that's already compared to a busy Friday, just a week beforehand. She also said she's heard of other spots that jumped 100 percent in sales.

"They're ordering food. They're taking some to go," said Marron. "They're taking their drinks to go. It's just a really good time."

Despite a nationwide labor shortage that's hit the service industry, Marron describes a can-do spirit to make it all happen.

"We called in an extra bartender, some extra servers and it's just all hands on deck," she said. 

Because of how significant the crowds were last month, organizers decided to block off Granby Street from City Hall Avenue to Tazewell Street. 

"Some of the streets were open and now, we've really closed the full Granby Street from Main, all the way down," said Jessica Kliner, marketing director of Downtown Norfolk Council. 

And with the event largely outdoors, people we spoke with consider that a big plus.

"I think we're still staying safe. We're still trying to stay safe. It's actually a step out more for us, with this," said Pruden. 

"I'm vaccinated," said Simmons. "So I'm comfortable and I feel OK."

The next and last "First Fridays" this year is October 1. Downtown Norfolk Council hopes to continue to series next April.

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