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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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First Friday: Historic Aggieland at its best

Photo by Cade Gossett

A couple walks on the streets of Downtown Bryan during First Friday on Friday, Dec. 2, 2022.

On the first Friday of every month, the quiet, historic streets of Downtown Bryan transforms into a unique stage to spotlight the local businesses, food, music, art, performances and culture of the community.

A recognized Texas Cultural District, Downtown Bryan is the heart and soul of the city of 90,000. A brief 10-minute drive from Texas A&M’s campus, it’s a refreshing glimpse into the city’s history and culture. The quaint shops and locally-owned businesses have a smaller, old-town feel, serving as a reminder of home for some students from rural areas. Unlike College Station, Downtown Bryan prides itself on its absence of big-name and chain restaurants and stores, emphasizing the importance of fostering a tight-knit community.

First Friday, Downtown Bryan’s monthly event, allows the community to come together to highlight the art, culture, people and businesses of Bryan in one place. Main Street is shut down, void of cars and instead filled with vendors’ stands and stages for local performers; the street lamps burn a little brighter, stores keep their doors unlocked and lights on a few hours past their typical closing times and the bars lining the streets pour out a few more drinks. 

Catherine Buckner’s shop Busha’s Custom Cookies, where she is the owner, cookie decorator and store’s operator, sits on the outskirts of Downtown Bryan on South Sims Avenue, just a couple yards south of the train tracks. Buckner said since Busha’s opened almost two years ago, they’ve participated in every First Friday. 

“Our typical hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. but we stay open until 9 p.m. for First Friday,” Buckner said. “We always offer free samples of our cookie of the month and we run some kind of deal … I change it every month. Staying open late helps a lot of people that don’t get off work until later …  Since it’s always such a heavily packed event, a lot of people will often start here, and then they’ll walk over [to Main Street], which is nice.”

Since Busha’s is on the outside of Downtown Bryan, Buckner said the energy in the store varies between First Fridays and the monthly event is a hit-and-miss event for her store. However, many of those who come into Busha’s are typically delighted to see they house other vendors’ products in-store as well, Buckner said. 

“Sometimes it’s really crazy and we get huge crowds that come in at the same time so it gets real loud and real hectic,” Buckner said. “Sometimes it’s pretty calm, but most of the time, it’s a good steady flow of people coming in. It’s really nice to showcase other small businesses here because I know when I first started my business, I couldn’t have done it without other people. I definitely wanted to show appreciation to other businesses to be able to have a space to sell their items.”

First Friday gives the opportunity for Bryan’s unnoticed businesses to display what they can offer to the community, Buckner said. Specifically, stores that do not yet have a storefront can set up booths and tables on Main Street to acquaint themselves with new customers. 

“Downtown Bryan is up and coming — but I think there’s still so many people that don’t know how many amazing businesses are down here,” Buckner said. “For some of these people, their main source of income is First Friday. It gives people something to look forward to at the beginning of every month.”

Haley Thurman, manager at Sparrow Lane, a spacious home decor and gift shop, said expanding the community is the best aspect of First Friday. 

“I love when people come in and they’re like, ‘Oh, this is my grandma,’ or ‘This is my grandpa and we’ve told them about the store,’” Thurman said. “I’m glad that we can show them around. I love when people are like ‘Hey, I was in last week, this is the friend I was telling you about.’”

Thurman said First Friday is great for the city’s economy, but also brings a feeling of home to A&M for some students.

“We love when people shop local, it helps us out and it helps the whole community,” Thurman said. “Also, I just think it’s exciting for Aggies and college students just to have somewhere to go that maybe feels a little more small town and local. Kind of just that homey feeling that they might be missing.”

Psychology senior William Wetzel is the president of Maroon Steel — a steel pan ensemble band whose goal is to spread the Afro-Caribbean culture of  Trinidad and Tobago around Bryan and College Station. Wetzel said it is a tradition for Maroon Steel to play at First Friday, and are the most attended performances.

“Being able to play on the street in the dark — it’s a really cool vibe,”  Wetzel said. “Being able to get everybody to show up and seeing everybody’s hard work come together for First Friday is really, really cool.”

Wetzel said for Maroon Steel, playing First Friday is different because they’re able to hook the audience as they’re walking by with their music.

“Being able to see them actually get interested in us and enjoy the music is different,” Wetzel said. “Rather than just playing in front of a sitting-down audience.”

Wetzel said his favorite part of Maroon Steel’s traditional First Friday performances is seeing the festival’s attendees enjoy themselves while listening to the steel pan’s unique sound, and a special moment between the band and First Friday’s attendees is when they play the War Hymn.

“The crowd is used to hearing music at First Friday, but when they see a steel pan it’s a lot different because it’s such a rare instrument,” Wetzel said. “A favorite moment of a lot of people in the band is playing the Aggie War Hymn and seeing the crowd start to sing along with us playing.”

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