Ed Carcarey and his partner wanted to create a community event that allowed Santa Maria residents to gather downtown eight years ago, but Carcarey said he didn’t think it would ever be possible.
“At the time, the economy wasn’t doing great, and I [knew] enough about the city’s finances so I didn’t think it would happen,” Carcarey said. “[But] the city planners changed and revised their downtown specific plan. … Part of the plan to revitalize downtown was to start bringing events downtown.”
After approaching a city planner to see if it would be possible to do a seasonal, Friday night event with live music, Carcarey launched Downtown Fridays: a free, family-friendly event that runs every Friday from the last week of March to the last week in September. It now attracts more than 2,500 people each week with its live music, food trucks, beer garden, kids zone, a new bingo tent, and a wide variety of local shops.
This year’s Downtown Fridays kicked off March 31 and will run until Sept. 29 at the Town Center West parking lot near Broadway and Cook Street.
“It’s hard to beat. It’s a free event, free parking, and it’s something to do on a Friday night in Santa Maria. If you’re in Santa Maria, you know there’s not a lot of options to come out and do something that’s family friendly,” Carcarey said.
Through a partnership with the city and several sponsorships, Downtown Fridays are able to remain free and have all of the costs covered, he added.
“That’s huge for an event like this because if we don’t have a gate or parking revenue, it’s really hard to pull it off or find revenue for all of that,” Carcarey said.
The COVID-19 pandemic shut down Downtown Fridays, causing it to go digital with Facebook Live concerts and have five food trucks in the parking lot for people to pick up food orders to-go every Friday.
As restrictions were lifted, he said he noticed a significant bounce back in attendance, and more mom-and-pop shops opened and wanted to participate in Downtown Fridays.
“We found after we opened back up [that] we had all these booths opening up because people wanted to do something as a side-hustle. We ended up with about a 25 percent growth in booths,” Carcarey said.
There were new clothing booths, toy and game booths, and boots and shoes booths that Downtown Fridays never saw before, he said.
“They were filling niches that they felt other people in the community weren’t. We even had a barber staff [that] cuts hair really inexpensively as part of training for their barbers,” he said.
Carcarey added that he anticipates more attendance as the downtown continues developing, including the recent approval to convert the old Fallas building, which is in Town Center West, to a new apartment complex.
“Because of the revitalization, one of the unintended consequences will be we will have to find a new home in the future,” he said.
One of Carcarey’s goals is to take Downtown Fridays and host them on the street, similar to the SLO city Farmers’ Market every Thursday to create that type of experience for Santa Maria residents, he said.
“Our ultimate plan—and this is a Hail Mary, and I think one day it will happen—we want to be out on Broadway, which is a state highway. It’s hard to get Broadway shut down; it does for two parades and car shows,” Carcarey said. “But at some point the city will have to take ownership of Broadway, and that’s where a true Downtown Friday should be.”
Email [email protected] to participate at Downtown Fridays.
• More than 30 Santa Ynez Valley women winemakers and more than a dozen female food counterparts gathered for the sixth annual Santa Barbara County Women Winemakers Celebration on March 8 to bring together women in the industry and show support for one another. The Women Winemakers Celebration, held each year on or near International Women’s Day (March 8), has for the past six celebrations donated event proceeds to a variety of Santa Barbara County nonprofits, all aimed at aiding underserved groups within the region’s communities. The 2023 event raised $15,000 in charitable event proceeds for The Rainbow House Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to serving the LGBTQ-plus community in the Santa Ynez Valley. m
Reach Staff Writer Taylor O’Connor at [email protected].