The first Friday of each month has become an opportunity for Lancaster County to showcase the diversity and talents of its members. Shops located in downtown Lancaster house much of the culinary, musical and artistic entertainment for these monthly events known as First Friday. The fall, summer and spring months often beckon local performers to bring their talents outdoors on the streets.
Therefore, in the context of more mild days and the arrival of spring, the first Friday in April looked to be one such night. But the weather had other plans. A gusty 40 degrees reduced those in attendance and nearly eliminated street performers, but the bevy of individuals brave enough to head into Lancaster City on April 7 received a more intimate taste of the county’s charm. While festive excitement does not follow a time schedule, the First Friday festivities officially kicked off at 5 p.m.
By that time, parking on the streets is free, but difficult to secure on the main roadways. Two of those main roadways, King and Queen Streets, meet at the town square, which typically strains to contain First Friday revelry. This past Friday, the only individuals on the square’s patio were passing through in that night’s uniform of beanies and scarves in route to a warmer destination. The cloudy sky prompted small lights on the ground to active a little early as daylight began to wane.
A quick jaunt, propelled by a tunnel of chilled wind, through the alleys along Central Market spills out onto Market Street. A sign outside of The Rabbit and Dragonfly café and bookstore offered an invitation indoors that needed little encouragement. Opening the first set of doors initiated a muted buzz of activity. The same action to the second door released a greeting of folk music and a hum of cheerful conversation. Individuals ranging from a grade school boy playing with a stuffed lion to the grandmotherly woman accompanying him occupied the space.
The long and narrow layout of the café lends itself to easy access and exit. The back door opens to a brick courtyard, which leads to Orange Street. Lone individuals, lovely couples and large groups filled the street-side windows of Pottery Works and Café One Eight. The price tags at Pappagallo clothing store may not match a college budget, but the outfits in the display called groups of friends to stop and choose their favorite look. At the corner of Orange and Prince Streets, Kim’s Costume Cleaners was closed.
But the light from its fluorescent ceiling fixtures bounced off salmon pink counters, out of the floor-to-ceiling windows and onto the adjacent streets. This busy intersection required the sparse pedestrians to wait from permission from the crosswalk light to move forward. But during that wait, bumping into an old friend or spotting an acquaintance across the roadway was not unlikely. Millersville University’s Ware Center offered another respite from the cold, as well as a painting collection, soft piano tune and warm coffee.
Thomas Scullin, professor and one of the founders of Pennsylvania College of Art and Design, stood alongside his colorful experimental works, happy to discuss his art or get to know those who stopped by the opening reception of his show. “Based on the weather, you can have a million people out on First Friday,” Scullin explains from experience as a Lancaster City dweller. However, the artist usually prefers a night of Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy and Jimmy Kimmel with his wife after a long week of teaching and painting.
For those who do head out on the town for First Friday, some sort of culinary experience is a must. The Lancaster Sweet Shoppe, located on Duke Street a couple blocks away from the town square, provided the perfect venue for such an endeavor as it stayed open until 10 p.m. While the cold continued to make its presence known, sights such as the illuminated stained glass windows of historical churches like St. James Episcopal and sounds such as the muted melodies echoing down the road from Court Side Lounge made for an enjoyable journey.
The aroma of the Shoppe’s signature stroopies signaled a successful arrival even before the storefront itself was visible. One step into the shop revealed the deception of that fragrance, as piles of chocolate and tubs of ice cream tempt every individual who took that fateful step. The reduced attendance of April’s First Friday was not apparent in the Shoppe, as its two-person circular tables were constantly occupied. An elderly couple stopped by on a date night, hormonal high schoolers broke their curfew and two moms let their husbands watch the kids. With deep conversations and tasty treats, time flies and closing time arrives quickly. Heading back outdoors revealed that the atmosphere had already shifted.
Fewer cars populated the roadways, a security guard outside Court Side Lounge was one the only individuals on the sidewalks and shop employees had returned street-side signs to storage. But even as First Friday died down, the unique aspects of Lancaster County remain. While some members will wait another month for their next opportunity to head into the city, the diverse talents showcased at this monthly event can be experienced any time, any day and in any weather.