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Community members walk through downtown Mount Vernon during First Friday. 

MOUNT VERNON -- Community members — families, local musicians and over 50 vendors — filled main street Mount Vernon on Friday night for the return of First Fridays.

The three-hour event, from 6 to 9 p.m., was the Central Business District’s first large-scale event since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mount Vernon’s last First Friday was in September 2019, downtown manager Anthony McNeal said. 

“We didn’t do any last year, so we’re excited to have them returning back to downtown,” McNeal said. 

Some operational changes were made to the event, including that vendors could sell products directly from their booths — which had not been the case in previous years, McNeal said.

For several companies, Friday was the first time they had booths at First Fridays, including Kacie Bell and Debbie Lovensheimer, who began their cotton candy company Elite Treats last October to help a local business pay its rent during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I met someone who owned a movie theater, and to stay afloat they were doing curbside popcorn,” Bell said. “And I had a cotton candy machine and I said ‘I wonder if you could sell cotton candy?’

"So I was selling it to them and I thought let’s see what else we can do.”

It was also the first time Station Break Senior Center had a booth, center director Meredith Lowther said. The center opened fully earlier in the week for the first time since the onset of the pandemic.

Lowther hoped having the booth would bring awareness that the center was open again.

Lori Van Valkenburg, who moved to the area in November, collaborated with her two sisters on a booth featuring summer-themed items, such as beach hats and bags.

Several organizations that previously had booths at First Fridays returned, including Knox County Farm Bureau. Kayla Jones, who helped run the bureau’s booth, taught children how to plant seeds during First Friday.

“The attendance tonight has been amazing,” Jones said. “It’s been great to see the community come out. There’s long lines for food and it seems like everybody is having a good time.”

Other organizations returned, but with new faces. Prevention educators for New Directions, Knox County’s Domestic Abuse Shelter and Rape Crisis Center, Olivia Crichlow and Bella Adornetto began working for the center within the past two years, so it was their first time running a First Friday booth.

Adornetto and Crichlow hoped to bring community awareness to abuse and specifically teach children how to make a positive impact in their day-to-day lives, such as speaking up when they see something wrong, Adornetto and Crichlow said. 

In addition to local businesses selling their products, community members volunteered to arrange activities.

Gabrielle Lozano, a junior at Mount Vernon Nazarene University, helped run the activities zone, which featured basketball and other games for children. 

“It’s been packed,” Gabrielle said, noting the high attendance of the event was matched by community excitement.  

First Friday also featured concerts from local performance groups — including MTVarts — a car show and a Cruise-In, where children could take pictures inside a fire truck and police cruiser. 

The 2021 downtown First Friday season began June 4 and will continue the first Friday of each month until September.

The following application can be filled out to set up a booth for future First Fridays: https://forms.gle/kLByAZLEWXMedpJL6.

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Emma Davis is a 2021 graduate of the University of Richmond, from which she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and leadership studies. Emma reports for Knox Pages and Ashland Source through Report for America.

Emma Davis is a 2021 graduate of the University of Richmond, from which she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and leadership studies. Emma reports for Knox Pages and Ashland Source through Report for America.