Emily Sneller had not been to First Friday since July, when six people were shot on Broad Street after the event ended. That night, she was walking to her car to go home when she heard the shots.
“I admit I was more than a little nervous about coming back here,” she said outside Nacho Mama’s about 8 p.m. Friday. “All I kept thinking was, what if I had been one of those people who got shot?”
Sneller and her boyfriend, Scott Masters, had a long discussion before skipping the event last month. On Thursday, after deciding they would miss it again, she had a revelation.
“I’m not going to let one event ruin a tradition I have been a part of for years,” she said. “That’s not fair to me, and it’s not fair to downtown.”
Because rain dampened August’s First Friday, September was the first real test of what the event would look like after being reorganized by a task force put together by the city administrator. It went off without any issues, said Richmond County sheriff’s Sgt. Harold Hitchcock.
The event, which lasts from 5 to 9:30 p.m., was quiet. When the sun went down, the show of force by the sheriff’s office became apparent.
Sheila Mays, of Athens, said authorities “came out of the woodwork” around sunset. She and her daughter, Melissa, were shopping on Artist’s Row when she noticed more police cars.
“It’s very reassuring to see them here,” she said.
Hitchock said he expected a larger crowd after the high school football games ended, which was part of the reason the department once again brought dozens of officers downtown. He said there was a variety of special operation deputies patrolling.
Hitchcock said they had the same number of deputies as at last month’s event.
“We are continuing our efforts to keep everyone that comes to First Friday safe,” he said, adding that he had been approached by a few people thanking him for being there.
Although he did not think it would be a problem, Hitchcock said his patrols would also be enforcing curfew for those younger than 18.
As for Julian and Mark Godspeed, of Evans, Friday was their first First Friday and they said they could not have had a better experience.
“The vendors are lovely,” she said. “And the artwork is beautiful. We will be back.”