Bellefonte’s Fridays in the ‘Fonte more than just a community event
Located within the “welcome mat” of The Pennsylvania Wilds along the I-80 Frontier, Bellefonte has seen a surge of economic-related activity in recent years. Community events have played a huge part in that activity.
But when the organizers of Downtown Bellefonte Inc.’s Friday in the ‘Fonte event started hosting it on the last Friday of each month, it was about more than getting the community out to shop. It’s part of an overall economic development initiative through the organization to attract and retain more businesses within the downtown zone.
The event actually wasn’t always held on Fridays. In late 2017, organizers first launched the event as “First Sundays,” where locals and visitors alike were encouraged to come out and support Bellefonte’s local shopping, dining and arts scene. But shoppers weren’t biting. While visitors to the area came by the hundreds (and still do) to the Bellefonte Art Museum’s First Sunday celebration, they didn’t want to spend an afternoon downtown.
It was back to the drawing board for organizers, who ultimately decided to poll the downtown’s business owners. When do they want to hold an event? Survey said: Friday evenings. In an effort not to compete with nearby State College’s First Friday event held monthly, Friday in the ‘Fonte was born on the last Friday of each month.
At its core, the event is just that: An event meant to bring more shoppers and diners and craft-beverage consumers into the community for a monthly celebration. But for Downtown Bellefonte Inc., an organization that strives to promote economic development, it’s much more than that.
“By bringing in tourists and shoppers during Friday in the ‘Fonte, we’re showcasing what Bellefonte has to offer — not just to consumers, but to people that could start businesses here as well,” said Shannon Wright, Bellefonte’s Keystone Community development coordinator.
Within Bellefonte’s downtown, there are vacant spaces that are just waiting for business owners with the right vision to bring them back to life, like this former gym facility or historic buildings that are for sale. Some of the community’s most iconic structures are for sale, too.
New businesses within the downtown are seeing success in general — and they’re seeing it during on Friday in the ‘Fonte, too. A pop-up brewery with Clearfield’s Race Street Brew Works had visitors packing into the office space of Hello Social Co. and 3twenty9 Design early in the summer; and in July, fairly new business The Cakery had to change its hours for the following day because so many baked goods sold during the event. It was reported that State Burger Co. had a line out the door in July for its Friday in the ‘Fonte Special: The Mad Cow — a spicy jalapeno burger.
Businesses have taken it upon themselves with the help of Downtown Bellefonte Inc.’s business owners’ committee to craft themes for some of the weekends, like a “Fashion Friday in the ‘Fonte” that was held in June, with businesses like Helen Foxx and Co., Confer’s Jewelers, Co2 Boutique and more participating. Many businesses also welcome out-of-area entrepreneurs to join them in their spaces for the evening, too — like By a Thread Boutique from Tyrone, who sets up at The Cakery.
“Friday in the ‘Fonte has given me the opportunity to collaborate and support another business owner,” said By a Thread owner Emily Boone. “We’ve been able to expand our reach by partnering together to host an event that’s mutually beneficial. I’ve met a lot of great people (at Friday in the ‘Fonte) that perhaps will turn into future customers … it’s all about building relationships and growing our reach.”
By welcoming businesses from out of the area — especially ones that are just starting to grow — Downtown Bellefonte Inc. is able to show these business owners that Bellefonte is a great place to run a business. The organization event takes that initiative a step further with its business incubator and coworking space, SpringBoard.
Friday in the ‘Fonte is planned through October on the last Friday of each month. The event will take a break for November to help business owners focus on Small Business Saturday; and in December for a break after Christmas, picking back up in January.
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