By Tiffany Cooke
Locals embraced the hot weather and took to Salem Square’s streets at the spring business extravaganza known as Friday Night on the Square.
After months of planning and prepping, the Washington County Chamber of Commerce hosted some 58 businesses – Chamber members and nonmembers – at the event on May 17. Tents and tables wrapped around the Square’s edges, many adorned with business logos, festival lights, or themed décor. Food vendors sold lemonade shake-ups, funnel cakes, cheese fries, and other carnival food. A local winery, Hunter’s Ridge, offered free samples to those who were eligible.
At the four-hour event, community members walked around stopping at each booth. At their stops, they could buy products from local businesses, play games for prizes or just for fun, enter in raffles, get their face painted, or simply find out more information about the businesses and the people who own them. 700 Roar Radio with Salem High School live-streamed the softball game and played music for the public to enjoy.
With clear skies and temperatures in the 80s, Friday Night on the Square brought a larger crowd than in past years. Though the event focuses on the businesses, booths, and all they have to offer, both the public and the vendors agreed on one thing – that Friday Night on the Square is more about the sense of community.
“I come to see what’s here, but mostly I come to see who is here,” Karen Houston, a Salem resident, said of the event.
In an estimate conducted in July 2018, the United States Census Bureau found that there are 27,943 people living in Washington County. While this number may sound high, it’s smaller than the number of students at most any public university. This means that when there is an event like Friday Night on the Square that specifically targets the Washington County community, it’s likely that attendees will run into new or old friends.
When Houston was a child, she attended a similar event each May called Maxwell Street Days. Then, it was just for fun. Now, it means more to her.
“I feel more involved,” Houston said of her dedicated attendance. “There’s such a change from when I was a child. There’s people I want and hope to find, and then I get to see who is doing what.”
She’s not the only one drawn to this aspect of Friday Night on the Square.
While business owners wanted to advertise their services, sell their products, and build a new clientele, many agreed that the community engagement was just as significant.
“I love connecting with other businesses and families,” Taylor Martin of the YMCA said. “It’s great to see the community together and then sharing the YMCA message with people who might not know.”
Janet Weimer of All IN Pediatrics liked setting up next to people she works with and spending some time with them outside the office. Friday Night on the Square also gives her the opportunity to see and interact with her patients.
Ernstberger Orthodontics recently opened a new location in Salem but has been a part of the event for some four years. Since opening here, Angie Bowser has experienced the draw of the community.
“We love the community,” Bowser said. “We love the comradery. There’s such a friendly and welcoming atmosphere here.”
Friday Night on the Square plays a role in building and encouraging this sense of community. Other businesses and attendees mentioned they love to meet and talk to people, and this event is the best place to do so.
On September 20, the fall Friday Night on the Square will be held. The Washington County Chamber of Commerce and local businesses are hopeful for another successful event with pleasant weather as they begin prepping. Though local businesses are eager to take the opportunity to put their name out again, the draw of the event is something that no rainy day or low attendance could suppress – community