Downtown manager tells Friday After Five's story

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Mullaney: Original idea developed from another city's TGIF festivities

Cumberland Times-News, August 16, 2012

Michael Sawyers

Jonathen Walters, left, and Corey Walters, both of Cumberland, place a box for donations for Friday After Five on a table near Town Centre stage on Baltimore Street on Wednesday as Don Robinson, background, sings and plays an acoustic guitar. Friday After Five operates on a $35,000 annual budget, according to downtown manager Ed Mullaney.  Photo by Ken Nolan

 

CUMBERLAND — A post on Mayor Brian Grim’s Twitter account letting readers know they can donate to support Friday After Five events doesn’t mean the popular TGIF gathering is strapped.

“No. In fact we’re pretty solid,” said Ed Mullaney, downtown manager. “We want people to know, though, they can always help by way of a donation. In fact, we put a donation box out every Friday.”

Bands are the biggest expense, Mullaney said this week, as he recalled the birth, growth and maturation of what he terms the downtown’s signature event.

“Friday After Five is paid for out of a $35,000 annual budget,” Mullaney said. This year the weekend-warm-up parties began May 11 and will continue through Sept. 28.

Donations of $500 each from businesses and organizations provide the bulk of the kitty. Grants are a big help when they can be obtained.

In the late 1990s, at the suggestion of his friend Chris Stevens, then a student at the University of Virginia, Mullaney traveled to Charlottesville, Va., to watch something that city called Friday After Five.

“Their downtown mall is about the same size as ours. Don’t print this, but ours is nicer,” he said.

Mullaney said he soaked in everything going on in downtown Charlottesville that Friday and thought, “We can do this,” returning to Cumberland and sharing that information with co-manager Sue Cerutti, now deceased.

The first FAF was advertised with a sign Mullaney painted by hand on a piece of plywood. A band in which his cousin, Terry Mullaney, was a member, Talk of the Town, played for free.

“We had 25, maybe 50 people,” Mullaney said. “We had no budget.”

It was Cerutti who suggested outdoor dining be a part of the event each Friday, though not many sources for prepared food existed then.

“Now that’s a big part of Friday After Five,” Mullaney said, mentioning City Lights, El Canelo, Baltimore Street Grill and Ottaviani’s.

City Lights owner Bill Shaffer said the dinners served on Friday evenings account for as much as 30 percent of his weekly revenue.

Like other downtown eateries, City Lights has both indoor and outdoor seating.

“The outdoor tables are at a premium,” Shaffer said. “That’s where people want to be. In the summertime we really look forward to Friday nights.”

Each FAF seemed to build upon those that came before, according to Mullaney.

“I have a list of 400 bands I can call now,” the manager said. “Bands started calling us asking to perform, knowing it is a fun place to play and that they would get other bookings from it.

“Alice and Joe Needer in Mount Savage asked if they could bring some motorcycles to display at Friday After Five and from that grew Hogs on the Mall and the involvement of Highland Harley Davidson in LaVale.”

Although it didn’t happen on a Friday, the fact that Allegany High School class of 2003 held its prom on the mall made Mullaney realize that what he calls Cumberland’s living room had arrived as a place to be.

“And the first high school reunion to take place downtown at Friday After Five was for the Fort Hill class of 1955,” he said. Now reunions are common there.

Excited as usual about the happenings on the inner city bricks, Mullaney said he is anticipating a substantial turnout Aug. 24 when Friday After Five welcomes high school graduates from the 1950s and 1960s from all the city schools. The actual reunions of Allegany 1950 and 1957 as well as LaSalle/Ursuline/Central 1962 will take place as well.

Mullaney’s vision, shared by many others who see the value of a vibrant downtown, is to let Friday After Five expand so that it is connected weekly via music and other activities to Canal Place and the Allegany Museum.

On Aug. 24, for example, a drive-in movie will be set up in the South Mechanic Street parking lot of the Allegany Museum, appropriately showing “American Graffiti.”

As the FAF attendance grew from 50 to 75 and more, Mullaney, who seems to be directly connected to the National Weather Service, bought some chairs, then more chairs, then more.

“We have quite a collection of chairs, but we still encourage people to bring their own,” he said.

Crowds now range from 1,000 to 4,000, depending upon the featured event, the bands and, of course, the weather.

“We’ve been washed out three times this year,” Mullaney said. “If you look at our schedule for Sept. 21 and 28, you see TBA (to be announced) — meaning we will bring back some of the bands that didn’t get to perform because of heat or rain.

“We’ve come a long way,” Mullaney said about Friday After Five.

The downtown manager, a constant presence in motion on the inner-city bricks, said he realized how far the Queen City’s popular event had come when Stevens told him Cumberland’s version had outdone the one in Charlottesville.

One of Mullaney’s favorite incidents is when someone staying at the Holiday Inn or Fairfield Inn wanders downtown on a Friday evening and tells him how much they enjoy the festivities.

“They’ll say ‘This is really nice. Do you do it every summer?’ And I say ‘No. We do it every week.’ That always brings a ‘Wow!’”

Contact Michael A. Sawyers at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .