A barber shop’s take on the problems of First Friday

While walking down Broad Street one afternoon, I happened upon several men talking in a barber shop. They gave me intriguing insights into the possible origins of the large teenage crowd at the recent monthly art walk, as well as solutions that First Fridays’ organizers, and Richmonders at large, need to consider.

It’s a warm afternoon in downtown Richmond. I’m walking along East Broad Street, my shoes clopping on the sidewalk, heading east from Madison. I’m in the middle of the stretch of Broad that has hosted the First Fridays art walk for the last ten years. Recently, however, there’s been a fulsome number of teenagers populating an event once dominated by a largely older crowd. As a result, there have been an increase of complaints, and even arrests during the last three art walks. Like others in Richmond, I want to know why so many teens have crowded these streets, and what can be done to alleviate the problem. I’ve heard comments from people all over the city, but today I’m more interested in what local businesses have to say about it.

As I walk, my eye catches a particular barbershop, one of several that I come across as I walk down Broad. I peer inside and see several men talking. I decide to go in.

There are six black men, some in their early thirties, some middle-aged. One barber stands trimming the hair of a young man seated on his crown-like chair. Another barber relaxes in his own, currently vacant red leather chair. The rest of the men sit comfortably in chairs directly in front of the line of barber stations that stretches to the rear of the shop. All of the men are reticent.

Except for one.

A man that looks to be in his forties and who wears glasses tells me how the owner of the shop once allowed people to display artwork in the window overlooking Broad Street during First Fridays. After all, why shouldn’t a barber shop, not at all the stereotypical business that one thinks of when one conjures the Richmond art walk that’s celebrating it’s tenth year, nonetheless want to participate in the festivities.

“Real nice vibe before it got rowdy,” says the standing barber, now warmed-up to me. He trims the front of a young man’s hair line with a precision that would rival that of a straight ruler.

There’s a unanimous nod from the other men. “They stirred the pot,” says another, of the largely juvenile crowds that have populated the past several events. The men all agree.

The man in glasses tells us something that he said to a nephew, who is of comparable age to the recent migratory youths at these events, on the August 5 event. “I told him ‘don’t bring your ass down here.’” There’s fighting, taunting, and general misbehavior. “Have to change the way things are,” says one man. More nods.

They’re all in agreement that there’s an issue. But that raises the question, How did it all start? I have no idea, and I don’t know if they have any idea either. But I ask anyways.

“Something ‘bout a Friday night,” says the standing barber, not entirely confident in that hypothesis. He brushes the small clipped hair off the head of the young man who’s now done with his cut.

“They’re not coming down here to look at art,” says another man sitting in a chair across from the standing barber. A couple men nod and say “that’s right.” With school out, students have no extra-curricular, school-related activities to keep them occupied. We all agree to that. But why have so many juveniles descended upon First Fridays? Why now?

One man, who’s been relatively quiet for the duration of the conversation, chimes in and says that local Hip-Hop radio station, Power 92.1, held a live broadcast earlier this summer that coincided with a First Fridays event.

This, according to Clovia Lawrence, is not correct. She’s the Community Outreach Director at Power 92.1. When I talked to her yesterday over the phone, she was emphatic that the only association that the radio station has had with First Fridays was to organize The Lounge @ Center Stage, an event tailored to a younger audience at 6th and Broad streets. If anything, they seem to at least be trying to do something about the teenage population.

It’s understandable, however, why the man at the barber shop would conflate the radio station with the music. At the May 6th First Fridays event, Power 92 had a “call-in” portion at the Rite-Aid on the corner of Broad and Belvidere, as part of their roaming Friday Night Live weekly programming. No equipment was set-up, says Lawrence, as the location was merely one of a series of several locations that were apart of that week’s Friday Night Live programming.

Shortly after First Fridays started attracting a noticeably juvenile crowd, Lawrence took part in a meeting that included members of the Young Adult Police Commissioners. It was at this meeting that young people told her that a beauty salon and barber shop business had been playing Hip-Hop music outside of their storefront, as well as sponsoring “Battle of the DJ’s” “spin-off” contests. This, says Lawrence, attracted a large amount of people, “east and west” of Richmond. She did not know the name of the business or where it was precisely located.

Back at the barber shop, one man, one of the youngest of the group, seems utterly convinced that the kids that have shown up for the last several First Fridays events are not all residents of the city. He thinks that there are those that come from “two-parent homes” that use their Friday night away from the suburbs, and specifically their parents, to go wild. He uses the analogy of college freshmen who leave the supervision of their parents for the first time as a way to explain the possible draw that relatively bored teens have to being around other like-minded contemporaries.

No matter what the initial cause of the influx of teens, all of the men are convinced that social networking has played a role. Someone can very easily post a meet up on Facebook or Twitter to promote a get-together involving a particular circle of friends. This could happen for one circle of friends, and another, and another…

The theory in the barbershop is that once teens knew of a venue on Broad Street that played music and hosted music-related competitions, they then planned and organized future hangouts to coincide with First Fridays–even though they may have been ignorant of First Fridays intentions to promote local art galleries. Last month, city officials, in conjunction with the organizing efforts of Clovia Lawrence, recognized the increased numbers of juveniles at First Fridays events and staged a program for this young demographic.

The topic of the youth-centric area that was put in place by the City of Richmond Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities Department, called The Lounge @ CenterStage, comes up at the barber shop. Virtually all of the men write it off just as it seemed young people did during the last Friday event. “Unless Snoop Dogg” performs, says one man, kids aren’t going to bother themselves with it.

I ask the men how organizers of First Fridays should progress with, and ultimately remedy, future events. They all acknowledge that the art walk events are worth saving. They all think it’s a boon for local businesses when not glutted with teenagers.

“Change the day,” says the only upright barber. He thinks emphatically and convincingly that Friday nights are not the best nights to stage the event. Saturdays and Sundays, he feels, are better days. He evokes the recent Watermelon Festival in Carytown, namely how it took place on a Sunday during the day, and how that had little-to-no reported incidents. He thinks something in the 12pm-5pm window on either a Saturday or Sunday would allow an “older crowd” to attend without disruption from a heavy teenage contingent.

Most teens, says one man, would either be “sleeping,” or “on the computer” during those times, and wouldn’t venture to Broad Street in the late morning or early evening. The other men agree with this. Most of the problems during the recent First Fridays have arisen during the later hours, with last week’s issues occurring after 9pm when the event had officially ended. It’s quite clear: an earlier time is the most reasonable and appropriate fix.

At least so says the barber shop.

  • error

    Report an error

Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. Jeb Hoge on said:

    Great perspective, and nice initiative on getting this interview, Nathan.

  2. Interesting. I suspected that social media played a part in this as it mushroomed out of control so quickly. SM also played a part in the disturbances in Philly.

  3. Interesting read

  4. Chris Munton on said:

    I agree that social media had something to play in this, though it also has to do with the way kids (teens think). Ever generation has a place to go and cause trouble. We had issues with Mallrats back in the 80’s, with Cruisers on DMV drive in the 90’s, and in the early 2000’s the Bottom became (and largely still is) a target. These area become part of the culture of teen angst and the need to push limits. It’s what kids do.

    Changing the time of First Friday will affect the demographic of the attendance, but in a negative way. Older crowds tend to be more complacent and reluctant to travel in an area that has parking issues, or crime issues. The first few years was not a 50+ crowd coming to FF. It was later 20 somethings with 30 somethings bringing there kids down. I wish I could offer suggestions, I myself am frustrated with such a great resource for art becoming mired in these types of issues. I can only say articles like this and maybe some press to reach these kids parents (and for the parent to become responsible) might have some affect.

  5. BOPST on said:

    This is the first article I’ve read about First Fridays from a black perspective. That sorta sums it up, doesn’t it? Great work as always, Nathan…

  6. David Salay on said:

    I think it is due to a pattern of police discrimination.

  7. Clay Adams on said:

    “This is the first article I’ve read about First Fridays from a black perspective. That sorta sums it up, doesn’t it? ”
    How is it different from a “white perspective?” These guys seem to agree with the consensus opinion that First Friday was better before being overrun with unsupervised teens making mayhem, and that something needs to be done about it.

  8. Judi on said:

    so glad to hear their perspective. nicely written

  9. I think the idea to hold the event early in the afternoon on a weekend (lazy Sunday afternoons perhaps) is one of the best I’ve heard. Now that Fall’s on the horizon, the uncomfortable heat wouldn’t be such a bear to deal with during daylight hours, so that potential annoyance is a short-term thing. It also seems like a fairly simple change. It might mean a change in name (First Friday Sundays….First Frisuns….First Sunfries….well, that sounds like a delicious brunch menu item), but at least the spirit of the even wouldn’t be removed the way it might with ideas like moving it to the ‘burbs. It’s not explicitly kicking kids out or running away from certain demographics.

  10. …How about simply Second Sunday?

  11. gallery fan on said:

    Other cities I’ve lived in had their “First Friday” on a “First Thursday” instead….but I also agree that having it on a weekend day would be a huge advantage. As a personal preference, I’d suggest Saturday instead of Sunday. For those of us dependent on the bus system: Sunday GRTC service is far too restrictive/reduced compared to Saturday.

  12. Stephanie on said:

    Instead of shutting out masses of young people, why don’t we find a way to include them in the art scene!?

  13. Kevin on said:

    If you make this event on Sunday you turn it into a dead man walking. The religious set refuses to do anything but sing in unison and devour fried chicken and/or prescription pain medication on Sundays and the rest of Richmond is too hungover to spend more than 5 minutes in daylight, much less use their barely functioning dehydrated brains to observe art. Also, forget about restaurant participation because no one gets Sunday deliveries, so the few brave places that choose to open their doors will serve “brunch specials” (can I get a hell yeah for eggs staying fresh for 45 days?!) that will be nothing to write (food blog!) home about.

  14. Holly on said:

    Don’t take away one of my favorite things to do on a weekend night just to make it calmer, safer, or to avoid teenagers. 20 and 30 somethings (and all visitors to the art walk who are there for the art and atmosphere) like to have something to do on a weekend night, and then go out for dinner and drinks afterward. That’s just not the same on a weeknight or weekend day.

  15. Lindsey on said:

    These kids want something to DO. So instead of trying to have a concert FOR them (since “they wouldn’t care unless it was Snoop Dogg) why not let they themselves be the “star” at the event. The CenterStage event could be a battle of the bands or something of that nature. Clearly they would want to make sure that all of their friends would be out there with them. All teenagers think they are the center of the universe. If you make them feel that way then perhaps they would leave other events, that they do not understand, alone.

  16. Roger Talbott on said:

    Its not clear to me why people can’t accept that teens are scumbags. Think back and admit that your own interests as a teen were as crass and superficial as every one else’s.

    Any prearranged event targeted at teens will be shunned by them quite thoroughly. Any event that would appeal to teens would have to advertise itself as having a bar, be 18+ and that all children will be ejected, then you would plant the rumor that they wont be checking ID’s. Then the kids show up and BAM they’ve been tricked into coming to a teen dance. Its the perfect trap.

  17. Given that this city hosts de facto segregated summer music events on Friday nights, I’m not really surprised that we’re having issues with an integrated art event downtown. But that’s what I thought was so awesome about First Fridays: that I could experience such a spectrum of activity along Broad Street. I recall one night in particular when I went to Marshall Street Cafe with a group of friends after enjoying the artwalk and was blown away by a band playing there. A great time, enhanced by seeing a side of Richmond’s culture that I’m not exposed to in my daily life. This is precisely why I’ve been a promoter of First Fridays and talked it up to everyone that’s never been–because for one night it was a chance to see what Richmond could be.

    I also think that moving the day/time admits defeat to the elements of Richmond that we need to change (and not ignore or avoid). For most working people and the local business they’d patron, I would think a 9pm end time is a bit early to really give the event its due each month. The galleries are typically very crowded as is and I’m not sure moving up the start time will change the actual time most traffic comes through the galleries. People don’t want to go home from work and then rush to First Fridays so they can breeze by the galleries and get the heck out before the 9pm trouble time.

    #15: I would not reward misbehaving unsupervised youths with a moment in the spotlight. I’m more in line with the thought of reinforcing curfew laws and getting them off the street if they’re causing trouble. I see no reason why anyone under 18 has any business being out downtown after 11 pm. It seems like a reasonable cutoff time for them to go out and have fun and then get home. And if they get out of line at First Fridays or start fights then they should be punished, plain and simple.

  18. Good article. Being a youth, you would think this would offend me but, that’s not my crowd so…good job!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with an asterisk (*).

Or report an error instead