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Largo rolls out its First Friday

LARGO — There will be food. There will be drinks. There will be music. There will be people spitting fire and spinning flaming plastic hoops.

This week, Largo will kick off First Friday, joining the ranks of local cities that host block party-like events each month. The idea isn't revolutionary; St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Safety Harbor are among the cities that host similar events.

Substantial collaboration by Largo businesses is new, though, according to some of the small-business owners involved with this inaugural event. And they hope the collaborative spirit builds Largo's First Friday to an event that rivals others in the area and acts as a catalyst to revitalize the downtown.

"I want it to be big," said event organizer Jennifer Lantry, owner of O'Shy's Irish Tap House. "People who are coming for the first time, I want them to say, 'Whoa, this is awesome, we need to come back next time.' "

First Avenue SW between Clearwater-Largo Road and Ridge Road will be lined with stands from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Visitors can eat food from the likes of Smokin' Rib Shack, Thirsty Marlin Grill & Bar., Gulf Coast Po' Boys and more, peruse offerings from local artists and other vendors, and check out the street performers, some of whom will be consuming or twirling things on fire.

(Don't worry, Lantry said safety crews will be on hand for the fire-related acts, which will be on O'Shy's property.)

Lantry is footing the cost for the first First Friday, paying for the swing band Lounge Cat and doing all the advertising. She hopes it's successful enough that vendors who aren't paying for spots this time won't mind a $30 fee to come back in August.

The 33-year-old Chicago native lauded her Largo cohorts for coming together, but wondered why the city hasn't jumped on the First Friday bandwagon before.

"It's kind of silly, they should have done this years ago," Lantry said.

Corey Miller, part owner of Smokin' Rib Shack, said Monday that no one had tried to organize a First Friday event before O'Shy's opened in March and Lantry started planning this event.

"I think everyone was just kind of doing their own thing," said Miller, who opened the Rib Shack seven years ago.

Economic doldrums have forced the businesses to work together, though, according to Miller and Ed Brewer, general manager of Thirsty Marlin.

"With the economy the way it is, I think everyone is trying to stick together," Brewer said.

City officials, meanwhile, say the effort by businesses couldn't have come at a better time. Budget cuts have forced the city to pare programs that bring people downtown.

Largo's proposed budget for special events in fiscal 2012, which starts in October, is $163,600, down from $245,600 in 2011. The city plans to lay off an employee who organized events like Largo's Downtown Market, which is canceled for 2012.

Joan Byrne, director of Largo's Recreation, Parks and Arts Department, said the city will need more private help to run events that bring people downtown.

"We can't be responsible for the day-to-day operations," Byrne said. "Some one, or some ones, need to come forward."

Into that vacuum walks Lantry, who plans on coming up with a different First Friday theme each month — fake snow in December, maybe Mardi Gras in February or March.

She hopes the monthly event prods people considering opening a shop, bar, or restaurant in Largo to do it.

"Hopefully, they'll see that, hey, this is a great town, we should open up shop here," she said. "We have the room."

Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or whobson@sptimes.com.

>>If you go

First Friday

When: Friday, 6 to 11 p.m.

Where: First Avenue SW between Clearwater-Largo Road and Ridge Road.

The event will include food, music, street performers and vendors, and is free except for food. First Friday will continue on the first Friday of each month.

Largo rolls out its First Friday 06/28/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 28, 2011 4:44pm]
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