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First Fridays finally returns with food, music, fun in KONO

on September 30, 2021

At his family-owned halal market Thursday morning, Temur Khwaja cut and marinated chicken and lamb for kebab at Marwa Market & Grill.

“We need to prepare for First Friday tomorrow,” said Khwaja, anticipation in his voice, sweat on his brow. Local businesses and restaurants in the Koreatown Northgate (KONO) neighborhood are preparing for the relaunching of the Oakland First Fridays festival tonight.

First Fridays is a monthly street festival held by KONO Community Benefit District. Eighteen months after the pandemic halted the event, First Fridays will resume at 5 p.m. Friday, on Telegraph Avenue between 27th Street and West Grand Avenue. And it will continue on the first Friday of each month. 

Temur Khwaja, owner of Marwa Market & Grill in the KONO neighborhood. (Jiyun Tsai)

The event celebrates the diversity and vibrancy of the community, while boosting many local shops. For businesses, the festival will be a key indicator of any economic recovery during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A lot of my income comes from First Fridays, so at the beginning when they closed it, I was really worried that I wasn’t able to pay my rent,” said Bessma Khalaf, who owns Of Soil & Moss plant shop. “It will be exciting to see if [business] would go back to what it was before the pandemic,”

Before the pandemic, the event would attract more than 30,000 attendees from all over the Bay Area and beyond. “Even our website gets dinged by out-of-the-country folks looking to see what we’re doing,” said Greg Harris, the event’s director.

First Fridays features over 60 vendors, more than half of them small businesses from Oakland. Bands will perform on the main stage on 27th Street, and people will find fashion and car shows and dance performances on the streets. A highlight are the many food vendors, which will line both sides of Telegraph Avenue, along with the many retail vendors.

This week, people will be invited to get creative, by painting on a canvas set up on an art wall.

Harris and his crew have worked to make the festival a celebration.

“It’s amazing to see how much joy we can bring to the folks that are coming to participate in the event,” he said.

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