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Oakland celebrates return of First Friday festivities after three-month break

Vendors happy to see return of First Fridays in Oakland
Vendors happy to see return of First Fridays in Oakland 03:18

Oakland's popular First Friday festival, a monthly event that draws thousands to enjoy music, food, culture and community in the East Bay, returned Friday evening after financial challenges forced a break that began after the last event in December.

The festival -- which is financed and organized by the nonprofit KONO Community Benefit District -- announced last year that it would shut down the monthly event from January through March as they worked to secure additional funding with several events that raised money in the interim. The organization was in the neighborhood of $100,000 short, forcing the hiatus.

"We're super excited to be back to Oakland First Fridays. It's one of our best events, one of our largest events," said Abdullah Sabir with Delightful Foods Bakery.

Organizers had to push the event to the second Friday this month due to weather. There were fewer vendors and people than usual but those who did attend were grateful to have this event back.

First Fridays street festival returns to Oakland by KPIX | CBS NEWS BAY AREA on YouTube

"This is the most successful First Friday we've ever done anywhere before and we do a lot of events," Nawid Rahimi with Donna's Tamales said. 

Seven years ago, Nawid Rahimi took over the tamale business and he says he works from 4 o'clock in the morning to 10 o'clock at night preparing his tamales and selling them events like First Fridays.

"Every week we have the chef's special," Nawid said. "Every week it changes. I cook it myself so depends on how I feel that week. What looks good, what kind of vegetable they have. I cook that."

Nawid isn't a trained chef. His story began in Afghanistan.

"I left home, Afghanistan when I was 11 years old," Nawid said. "So I had to go to different countries on my own with no parents, no family. So I had no option but to learn to cook so I can survive."

The story of survival is one that many Oaklanders can relate to. Roy Lewis says this street fair brings in new customers to his barbershop. Every dollar that comes in helps small businesses keep their doors open.

"We got to keep trying," Lewis said. "We can't stop. We're invested in this. All these people are invested in this. You can't turn back. We got to make it through this."

Organizers say they are continually raising funds to keep this event going but the plan is First Fridays will be held through the rest of the year.

"A lot of people were having doubts," Venessa McGhee with First Fridays said. "They didn't think we're coming back but we knew we were. We were coming back stronger than ever."

Oakland First Fridays has roots that date back to 2006 as Art Murmur, which was started by a collective of art gallery owners and a group of vendors, eventually evolving into a citywide art crawl before transforming into the Oakland First Fridays festival on Telegraph Avenue in 2011.

The event supports more than 60 vendors and small businesses in downtown Oakland, filling the neighborhood with upwards of 20,000 to 30,000 attendees on Telegraph Ave. between 22nd and 27th streets. The event runs from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., although many of the businesses along the stretch will host activities later in the evening.

It costs about $45,000 each month to put on the street fair so the three-month break allowed the organization time to regroup and raise more funds for the April relaunch. While the festival was set to return last Friday, inclement weather led organizers to push back the date.

More information on Friday's festivities can be found on the Oakland First Fridays website.

KPIX correspondent Da Lin contributed to this report

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