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About have a dozen people, some in movement and blurred are pictured outside, in warm clothes, some in hats, with fake snow swirling and on the ground.

Costs shut down Oakland First Fridays for the winter

on December 18, 2023

Oakland First Fridays, a monthly festival on Telegraph Avenue featuring food and crafts, will shut down through March because of financial constraints, organizers say, and may be different when it reopens. 

“This year, we’ve been losing money every month and we need to stop the bleeding,” said Shari Godinez, the executive director of Koreatown Northgate Community Benefit District, the nonprofit that runs First Fridays. 

On Dec. 1, residents enjoyed “Frosty Friday,” the last First Friday event of the year. They played with artificial snow on 24th Street, danced to the rhythm of the Soul Beat Drum Circle on 25th Street, and enjoyed the offerings from food trucks and other local vendors.

David González, who has been attending for three years, said the best part of First Fridays is the culture. 

“I love seeing lots of different ethnicities and races come together to eat food and drink,” González said.

An coat-covered arm is in the left of the frame, banging on a large drum. On the far right, a man in a cap plays a metal drum and cymbal set. Moving around them are about eight people, all in winter coats, some in hats, all men except or one woman.
The Soul Beat Drum Circle performs at First Fridays on Dec. 1, 2023. (Liliana Cortés)

When First Fridays returns, Godinez said, they are considering eliminating the stage and the music to reduce the costs. 

According to Godinez, putting on one of the monthly events costs $35,000 to $45,000, with funds coming from sponsors, vendor spaces, donations and merchandise sales. The monthly losses pose a challenge for organizers, leading them reconsider the event and explore ways to cut down on costs.

Godinez confirmed that the organization needs to find ways to bring in more sponsors and donations. It also might enlarge the footprint toward the Fox Theater and expand the vendor space, since Telegraph Avenue’s new  bike lanes have limited the amount of space to rent.

Attendance has been an issue, too. Godinez said First Fridays still isn’t drawing as many people as it did before the COVID-19 shutdown, going from about 50,000 people to about 15,000 each month

Crime could be one of the reasons for decreasing attendance. Godinez said many people are afraid of car break-ins

‘It’s just good vibes.’

First Fridays began in 2005. Over the years, it has evolved into a beloved community event, showcasing Oakland’s vibrant art, culture and diversity. Many residents eagerly anticipate a new edition every month.

“I feel like I never fully know what to expect. It’s generally the same kind of stuff, but I feel like usually there’s slightly different vendors and everything. I don’t know, it’s just good vibes.” said Tess Newman, a college student who has attended for three years.  

Stacey Stewart, a designer and owner of the brand Oz and Oats from Los Angeles, understands that the financial concerns. “They said they need to go back and, you know, rearrange and rework some things. So I’m looking forward to that,” Stewart said.

The city waived the permit fee for First Fridays and is covering the cost of the police and the fire department’s supervision, which Kono’s estimates is worth $10,000 per event. Koreatown Northgate CBD is talking to some of the brick-and-mortar business owners that benefit from the festival about the possibility of sponsoring it.

“I really hope that it really is only temporary and that they can, like, come back in full swing,” Newman said.

Are First Fridays days numbered in Oakland?


  1. […] Costs shut down Oakland First Fridays for the winter […]

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