A Brief History of Thursdays Downtown
Since July 2004, Thursdays Downtown (or a similar-named version of the event) has been a part of the downtown Rochester community. Now in its 15th season, the event has grown into a large music and arts festival that draws 20,000+ people every Thursday! Here’s a look at how the event started and the ways in which it’s grown over the years.
Wayne Flock, then president of Rochester’s Downtown Business Association, spearheaded the revamp of the annual Blues Fest in Central Park. It was decided the event could better represent downtown businesses and change the public’s perception of downtown by moving it to Peace Plaza.
Kicking off a six-week run in July was the inaugural Summer Street Market & Music Series. It included live music and approximately 25 vendors in Peace Plaza. The move from Central Park showed the public downtown Rochester could be a vibrant place in the heart of the city.
The event expanded to 1st Street Southwest between 3rd Street and Peace Plaza. With the enlarged footprint, the number of vendors increased to 40. The event also extended the number of dates, starting June 25 and ending September 30.
The Rochester Downtown Alliance was formed and adopted the event into its portfolio.
This was the year the event was officially titled “Thursdays on First.” Heidi Mestad of the RDA "dubbed the event and helped it to grow to the event it is today," said Flock. With the moniker change came the introduction of the market bags and beer cups that are still part of the event today.
According to Flock, this was the year Thursdays on First received community recognition as “the place to be in Rochester in the summer.”
Historic 3rd Street businesses wanted to be part of the growing event, so a name change to “Thursdays on First & 3rd” was in order.
This year saw a couple new partnerships with the Rochester Downtown Alliance form. One was with the Rochester Farmers Market to set up a satellite farmer’s market each Thursday on Historic 3rd Street. The second one was with Rochester Civic Music to host four international artists.
Before becoming an internationally touring artist, American rapper, singer, and writer Dessa performed for free on the Peace Plaza stage.
Themed Thursdays became a feature of select dates and continued through 2017. These days included themes like Pay It Forward, Youth Day, Adventure Day, Farm in the City, Diversity Day, and Pop-up Park Day. 2015 was also the year of the highest attendance date: 26,679 people on June 16.
Because of Heart of the City construction in the Peace Plaza in 2020, Thursdays on First & 3rd was rebranded to Thursdays Downtown to accommodate a temporary relocation. This season also saw the second highest attendance record of 25,998 people on June 13.
“I am proud of where the event started and what it has become today, and thank the RDA staff for guarding my vision,” said Flock. Thursdays Downtown has come a long way since its inception and RDA staff hope the event continues to evolve while maintaining its community block-party atmosphere. For details about this year’s event, visit the Thursdays Downtown event page.