Fridays are winding down a little later than usual one night each month on at least one Westchester street.
Along this stretch of W. 87th Street between Truxton Avenue and Sepulveda Eastway, in an area known to locals as The Triangle, businesses are keeping their doors open later into the evening on the first Friday of every month, when visitors can be seen mingling among friends and neighbors and sampling some of the popular food truck offerings.
The concept of First Friday has been practiced in recent years in at least one other local community, Venice, where the eclectic Abbot Kinney Boulevard has drawn scores of people from throughout Los Angeles with its bars, establishments and visiting mobile food vendors.
But merchants who helped initiate the Friday events in Westchester note how they carry a different vibe, one of a smaller scale with a more community, family-oriented atmosphere.
“It’s a very nice, all-family kind of event and people seem to be receiving it wonderfully,” said Pat Lyon, owner of Westchester Watchworks on 87th Street. “It’s an opportunity for people to come out to see their neighbors and friends and have a good time.”
Members of the 87th Street Merchants Group came up with the First Friday idea as a way to not only make the area more lively but to attract more attention to the businesses operating in the neighborhood.
“It was to create a greater awareness of the central business district, especially 87th Street, in a lackluster economy so that people can remember to shop local,” said Lyon, who helped spearhead the effort. “This is a family friendly community and our doors are open.”
Margot Zuzek, the owner of Canterbury Art Shoppe, said many of the businesses were intrigued at the chance to make their street more happening.
“We just wanted to try some things to see what we could do to make it kind of a community street where people would want to come and shop,” Zuzek recalled.
Zuzek acknowledged that while the events may not necessarily lead to immediate increased sales, the businesses hope that customers will be influenced to return to the stores.
“The whole idea is to let people know we’re here and show them we have some things for which they want to come back here,” Zuzek said. “(The businesses) are marketing it on the idea that people will come back.”
By coming out to the monthly functions, some visitors might find out about certain stores that they weren’t aware are in business, Lyon noted.
“It can introduce people to some stores that they didn’t know existed and it gives merchants the opportunity to meet new people,” the business owner said.
Don Duckworth, executive director of the Westchester Town Center Business Improvement District (BID) credited the 87th Street businesses with taking a lead on the First Friday event, and said their effort to create an activity that helps draw an increasing number of patrons to downtown is what the BID is all about.
“The events have brought a lot of new shoppers out to see the stores and what they have to offer,” Duckworth said. “It’s a time for the businesses to shine, to show their wares and to bring people back.”
Lyon and Zuzek pointed out how the attendance has jumped considerably since about a dozen food trucks with various selections have stopped by the events beginning in December. While the Venice events have raised concerns due to a large number of trucks lining the street, the Westchester event limits the number of vendors to no more than 15. The trucks have kept the scene orderly and clean up the street before they leave, Lyon explained.
The president of the Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Association, Matt Geller, said the trucks and Westchester merchants have developed a great partnership for the events and the trucks are serious about leaving the street in a better condition than when they arrived.
“It’s the way we would like things to go every time,” he said of the Westchester functions.
Some of the food trucks began coming to Westchester after street parking was prohibited at the Venice events, and they have found a more controlled event in a smaller area on 87th Street, Geller noted. The Westchester function is more family oriented and has less of a “party scene” than Abbot Kinney, which has several bars, he said. The 87th Street events begin about 4 p.m. and typically end at about 10 p.m., while First Friday can be busy past midnight in Venice, he added.
“It’s more about just the food and interacting with the merchants who are there,” Geller said of the Westchester events. “The merchants have enjoyed it so much they have invited the trucks back every month, and the trucks really love it.”
Lyon also spoke of how 87th Street has a “different kind of feel” and said Westchester is not intending to compete with the Venice event but rather offer an experience the community can enjoy.
“This provides a wonderful service to the community and it’s a fun way to spend a Friday night,” she said.