Art, business merge downtown

Sherry Orchard works at her feather-painting art in her booth at the Walla Walla Farmers' Market on a recent Saturday. On the first Friday of summer months, she takes part in a new art-centered street fair merchants on First Avenue started in July.

Sherry Orchard works at her feather-painting art in her booth at the Walla Walla Farmers' Market on a recent Saturday. On the first Friday of summer months, she takes part in a new art-centered street fair merchants on First Avenue started in July. Photo by Donna Lasater.

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— The art of marketing and the marketing of art has intersected on First Avenue in downtown Walla Walla.

Several merchants along the block between Main and Alder streets have tapped into the once-a-month First Friday ArtWALK with something they call Fridays on 1st. During the street fair/block party First Avenue is closed off at 3:30 p.m. so vendors can set up booths. The event starts at 5 p.m. and runs to 9 p.m., with live music starting at 6 p.m.

Edie Johnson of Plumb Cellars, Paul Mobley of Aloha Sushi and Robin Consani of Sweetwater Paper & Home put together the event after a year of considering the idea. The event is sponsored by Banner Bank and the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation.

“They wanted to draw attention to their businesses, attract more people, more sales, more fun with something fun and exciting,” said Jennifer Northam, the foundation’s events and public relations manger.

Because it is the same evening each month as the long-runnning ArtWALK, it simply adds more that’s being offered downtown and “fits so well,” she said.

Consani said the purpose of the event is to promote the businesses. The first was held July 6; the next is scheduled for Aug. 3.

“It’s also a way for Walla Walla people to enjoy their own downtown,” she said. “My shop was open until 9 and business was good. I heard that everyone felt a slight bump. We had about 10 booths and we will have 20 next time.”

“They had great traffic,” Northam said. “And vendors that were there loved it. They loved it because they made sales. The musicians added to the ambiance.”

The Downtown Walla Walla Foundation helped merchants get the ball rolling.

“We helped them financially, it’s their first event,” Northam said. “We were advising them and loaned them chairs and canopies. It’s our responsibility to help them.”

The event also dovetails with a new push by the Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce and other entities to incorporate the arts into businesses as a way to build customers and tourism.

The concept was announced during the Chamber’s quarterly luncheon in June. A seven-person panel made up of representatives from the Walla Walla Symphony, ArtWalla, Walla Walla Foundry, Power House Theatre, Chamber Music Festival and others spoke of Walla Walla’s emergence as an art destination and the ease in which artists and performers can find success in the remotest of places.

Consani said First Avenue downtown is becoming more public-access focused with retail shops.

“My shop opened almost two years ago and in that time we’ve seen more businesses open on First. It was mostly offices before that, now it’s turning into it’s own little area.” A variety of eateries and tasting rooms have opened on that block in the last few years.

Consani said she and fellow merchants want to spur more shopping on the block.

“My shop doesn’t ordinarily stay open that late on a Friday night,” Consani said. “But we have extended shopping hours” during the event.

Chelsea Wheeler co-owner of Frosted — The Cupcake Shop, said her store didn’t participate in the inaugural event but will be there for the one in August.

“I heard good things about it, they had a real positive outcome. It was a nice first experience,” she said, adding that she plans to hand out samples and coupons at the next gathering.

Photographic artist J. Franklin “Jim” Willis sold multiple prints to one shopper and had many conversations about photography. He said First Avenue is an ideal place for the street fair because of the merchants and assortment of places to eat.

“For the first time, it went very well,” Willis said of the July 6 debut event.

Artisans took note of each other, too.

“There were a lot of talented artists there,” said Sherry Orchard, who paints in acrylics on feathers.

Richard Czyhold, who makes rustic metal sculptures from recycled farm parts and scrap metal said he and his wife, who makes “whimsical jewelry” out of recycled nuts, washers, copper and aluminum, had “a lot of fun and we sold a lot of pieces.”

The Fridays on 1st will continue Aug. 3, Sept. 7 and Oct. 5. Merchants of 1st are looking at continuing on with a holiday event the weekend of the Parade of Lights, Dec. 1. The group also is planning for it to become a regular yearly series, and starting it earlier next year.

“We are also looking at getting non-profits involved,” Consani said. “We want interactive things, like face painting and family-friendly events.”

For more information and how to participate in Friday’s on 1st, call 509-522-8222 or 529-8755.

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