TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — Tallahassee’s Railroad Square Art District is home to more than 70 small businesses. Those businesses were all impacted by the pandemic.
With First Friday at the square returning, shops are looking forward to the crowds returning and with business rebounding into the summer months.
“We had a studio and for almost a year before COVID struck,” explained Bob O’Lary, one of the owners behind Foto Studio in Railroad Square.
“It wasn’t so much COVID striking," said O'Lary. "It was railroad square deciding to not have First Friday’s.”
For the past 20 years, the monthly cultural event has been an opportunity for the galleries, artists and shops here to showcase what they’ve got to potential customers and the community.
It was placed on pause in March of 2020 due to the pandemic.
“Our business just took a 90 percent nosedive at that point,” O’Lary added.
As crowds disappeared and events that typically hire photographers went virtual, O’Lary said, “it was difficult to deal with on an emotional level.”
He’s not the only one here who felt that way.
“It was horrible. It was like lights out in here,” shared Lyn Russell. She owns The Bee’s Knees in the square.
She added she was afraid she, “was going to lose the business. I didn’t know what I was going to do.”
Leaders at the square recognized that challenge.
“What are you going through? How can we help you through this? How can we get together and get through this as a community,” asked square’s co-owner and CFO, Adam Kaye. He said they asked a lot of these businesses those questions.
Kaye is part of the third generation in his family to own this property. He said to help businesses rebound, “what we immediately did was slash ten percent off everyone’s rent.”
“That was a help,” O’Lary said. “That made our rent drop a little bit.”
With First Friday’s making a comeback, Russell said, “it’s almost like you can see a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Kaye added, “everybody is super excited!”
They are excited to welcome back the crowd and hopefully some new business.
“We are starting to get more people coming in,” O’Lary said. “More people are booking portrait sessions. Events are coming back.”
“It’s kind of like a rebirth in a way,” Russell concluded.
First Friday returns this Friday, June 4. Railroad Square says they are encouraging vendors to hold their showcases outdoors along with social distancing for those who are still not vaccinated.