Four members of the Zappos team, including CEO Tony Hsieh, recently purchased First Friday from the nonprofit Whirlygig Inc. Can they retain the authenticity of the festival while helping it to grow? Here are some pointers:
1. Cast a wider net. Much of the confusion about First Friday’s “summer hiatus” was that there was a city-sponsored, Whirlygig-administered event (the fenced street fair along Casino Center Boulevard), and then there was all the rest (the Arts Factory, Main Street, East Fremont, etc.). Eliminate the confusion by melding the official and non-official events.
2. Protect grassroots progress. What was launched by three local community members and overseen by a non-profit corporation is now owned by you, the Zappos Four. But First Friday really belongs to the community. Be a steward.
3. Remember that downtown was not born the day Zappos announced its 2012 relocation. Most downtowners are thrilled that Zappos is coming. But don’t overlook the time and effort many have already invested. Let’s call the post-Zappos era “Downtown 3.0.”
4. Don’t waste time trying to herd cats. Infighting has hampered our arts scene for years. Provide leadership and involve those who can make a difference.
5. Slowly guide us to commercial success. The fear that First Friday will somehow become “Zappos Friday” is already being whispered even among boosters of your efforts. Help the community grow beyond a fear of “sell-out success” and into the realm of simply “success.” You know how to do that.
6. Communicate. Hold public meetings, gather input and share information. Businesses are also impacted by First Friday—from shuttle service to where food trucks set up shop. Involve small businesses and let them create special events in conjunction with downtown events, instead of being surprised by them.
7. First Friday should be better with you there. The event had grown beyond the expectations and resources—financial, physical and emotional—of its founders. So it’s a good thing that your group is taking the reins. Now, make it authentically better, not just bigger.