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First Fridays

Are First Fridays days numbered in Oakland?

on October 8, 2022

Music and the smell of grilled meat and seafood wafted in the air as people grabbed food, browsed necklaces and earrings and watched street performances on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland Friday. 

Thousands of people attend Oakland First Fridays – a free monthly event that  features local vendors, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Telegraph Avenue between 27th Street and West Grand Avenue.  But its future is uncertain, as organizations struggle to meet the event’s expenses. 

First Fridays
Browsing at one of the many art stands at First Fridays in Oakland. (Saumya Gupta)

First Fridays costs about $45,000 a month to put on, said Shari Godinez, executive director of the Koreatown Northgate Community Benefit District, known as KONO, which runs the event. One of the biggest expenses is the $10,000 a month bill for police protection, which the city used to cover. 

The city paid for its portion of the cost through revenue from Oakland’s hotel tax, which took a big hit when the pandemic crippled the hospitality industry, according to a report by KQED. 

According to the First Friday’s website, First Fridays was to end this month. However, some companies provided sponsorship money that will allow it to last through to the end of the year, said Greg Harris, Oakland First Fridays festival director. 

Godinez added that KONO’s board of directors also offered more funding, some people donated money and the city found funds to help cover the cost for the police and fire departments until next June. Additionally, they raised the vendor price to provide more funding for First Fridays.

But the increased vendor price is pushing out small artists and affecting what the festival provides, Godinez said. 

The prospect of First Fridays going away concerns people like Adri Vandiver, who have made the event a regular part of their lives.

“It would be really sad to lose all the music and the dancers and the food and the artists,”  Vandiver, 24, said. “It sounds really bad. I don’t want it to go away.”

First Fridays
Korean Cultural Fest was the theme for October’s First Fridays. (Saumya Gupta)

Every First Friday has a theme and KONO built this weekend’s event as Korean Culture Fest. Performers entertained the crowd with traditional and contemporary Korean dances and songs between 26th and 27th avenues, where people could enjoy Korean specialties such as kimchi, bibimbap and chapchae. 

“It’s just nice to be out here,” Vandiver said. “It feels genuine and safe and comfortable and really authentic out here.”

First-timer Aljahnae Pina soaked up the sights, sounds and smells, pausing to appreciate the creativity at table after table. 

“I think it’s a whole vibe,” Pina, 19, said.

Along the street, people crowded around dancers, cheering and clapping to the music.

“First Fridays is an Oakland thing,” said Gigi De Leon, a vendor at the event.

Vendor space was another challenge this year. In the area where Oakland First Fridays sets up, there is construction for a bike lane. The loss of that space is costing about $8,000 a month in vendor space, Godinez said.

“It’s just been really tough between losing that income and then being charged extra fees,” Godinez said. “Financially, it’s been really devastating for us.” 


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