Although mask-wearing is not mandatory, organizers are encouraging attendees to wear one. There will also be masks available at the gate for those who want them. Credit: Adrian Bautista

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After 18 pandemic months and numerous permitting hurdles, one of Oakland’s most prominent outdoor festivals, First Fridays, is back. The celebration kicks off this Friday at 5 p.m. along Telegraph Avenue between Grand Avenue and 27th Street.

Oakland First Fridays typically attracts crowds of 30,000 to 50,000 people, providing a significant boost to the local economy, especially businesses in Oakland’s Koreatown Northgate (KONO) neighborhood. 

“A lot of people don’t realize how valuable this event is for the entire city,” said Shari Godinez, executive director of the KONO Community Benefit District, the nonprofit merchant’s association that puts together the festival. “Thank God for the community and how excited they get when they hear that we’re coming back.”

Oakland first fridays

  • To participate as a vendor or sponsor, apply here.
  • To volunteer, sign up here.
  • To donate, visit the Oakland First Fridays GoFundMe page.

The event, which takes place on the first Friday of the month, came to a halt once COVID-19 hit in early 2020. Organizers had hoped to bring it back this past summer, but those efforts stalled in part due to security fees required by the Oakland Police Department, according to Godinez. She told KQED earlier this month that her organization was able to negotiate a fee reduction with OPD, from $24,000 down to $10,000, and that City Councilmember At-Large Rebecca Kaplan helped the nonprofit secure a corporate sponsorship with Doordash to cover OPD’s fees for October’s event.  

Godinez anticipates the total cost for this month’s event, including the security fee, will be somewhere between $15,000 to $20,000. For the previous seven years, Godinez said, the city underwrote the costs for the police and fire department, special events permits, and sound permits.

“It’s usually a loss for us, but we feel as an organization that it benefits the community,” Godinez said. “And it benefits the brick and mortars in our commercial district.” 

The KONO Community Benefit District relies on contributions, or assessments, collected from business and property owners in the district. Those funds total roughly $600,000 per year, according to the organization’s website.

Despite the cost and permitting complications, the organizers are eager to welcome people back to Telegraph Avenue. 

As of Monday, 55 vendors (15 serving food and 40 in retail) and 19 volunteers had signed up to partake in Friday’s festivities. Typically, each event requires around 40 volunteers.

Attendees can expect to see some changes. The stage was moved to one end of the festival on 27th Street, and three bands will perform there this Friday: Farenhyte 5150 playing 90s R&B, The Best Intentions playing original Motown classics, and Flo, a Latin funk orchestra. 

For fans of the car show that used to take place at the now-shuttered gas station on the corner of Telegraph and West Grand, you’re in luck: That event will also be making its grand return this month outside of the Moxy hotel, which opened in March. 

Although mask-wearing is not mandatory, organizers are encouraging attendees to wear one. There will also be masks available at the gate for those who want them. 

“We just hope that everyone stays safe and enjoys themselves,” Godinez said. 

Azucena Rasilla is an East Oakland native, a bilingual journalist reporting in Spanish and in English, and a longtime reporter on Oakland arts, culture and community. As an independent local journalist, she has reported for KQED Arts, The Bold Italic, Zora and The San Francisco Chronicle. She was a writer and social media editor for the East Bay Express, helping readers navigate Oakland’s rich artistic and creative landscapes through a wide range of innovative digital approaches.