Laura Engelman, Community Engagement Director for the Rochester Downtown Alliance
At the top of her responsibility list is the planning and execution of Thursdays on First & 3rd, Rochester’s weekly outdoor market and music festival, that draws tens of thousands of participants every Thursday from June to August. The theme for today is “Adventure Day,” and Laura’s day starts off with a bang—or more appropriately—a boom.
5 a.m.: Laura wakes up to her alarm, accompanied by the cracks and rumbles of a thunderstorm. When asked if the weather stresses her out she shrugs through steely blue eyes. “We are a rain or shine event. And we always have a weather plan.”
5:30 a.m.: The RDA team has a conference call with the National Weather Service. Things aren’t looking good; thunder and lightning—both safety concerns—are forecasted for several hours.
6 a.m.: An email is sent to 116 vendors, informing them of the set-up delay and weather plan, and Laura gets prepared for her day. She packs extra socks and shoes to prevent soggy feet.
7 a.m.: Laura arrives at the office to field phone calls and emails… “Is the event canceled?” “Is it still happening?” Then she checks in with her staff and team of volunteers, to discuss strategy for the day.
8:30 a.m.: The team has their second conference call with the National Weather Service, and additional delays are communicated to vendors. Laura prides herself in knowing most vendors by name, and loves hearing their stories, as well as enjoying their goods. Kapper’s Big Red Barn (cheese curds), Carroll’s Corn (popcorn), and J & J Crafts (cinnamon roasted nuts) are a few of her faves.
10 a.m.: The rain subsides and load in and set up officially begins. Tents are anchored with 30-pound bags of sand to prevent flip-overs and blow-aways. Lunchtime entertainment is canceled due to the rain. The production team works diligently to build the 1st Ave. stage in time for the evening line-up.
10:30 a.m.: Laura checks in with the “Adventure Day” vendors on Historic 3rd Street. Today’s activities will include book reading and button-making with the Rochester Public Library, and face painting and race car building with the Children’s Museum. There is also a chin-up challenge hosted by Roca Rock Climbing, and a climbing wall by Prairie Walls. Local philanthropists will later rappel “Over the Edge” nine stories to raise funds for the Girl Scouts.
12:30 p.m.: The market officially opens. Laura proceeds to “loop” the event for the next several hours. Each member of the team carries a spreadsheet detailed in 30-minute segments, including the footer: Looking for something to do? Pick up trash, take a seat at the RDA booth, walk the event and answer questions, quality-check tents, a-frames, stages and banners. “We don’t just ‘put on’ the event,” Laura shares. “We work it.” Staff and volunteers fill coolers with ice and water, set up tables and chairs, and empty garbages as well answer questions. Laura takes little credit for her endless to-do list, and says she loves “the feeling of community, of everyone working together to make something happen.”
5 p.m.: The band “The Shift” takes the First Ave. stage, and Thursdays on First is in full swing without a storm cloud in sight. Kids with painted faces run happily through the Adventure Day activities, music lovers dance stage side, and the smell of burgers and popcorn and cheese curds fill the air. Laura sits at a table, fielding questions. Her answers are short and matter of fact. All guts, no glory. Her walkie talkie beeps, and she is back on the beat.
8:30 p.m.: Another Thursdays on First has ended. Laura and her team help vendors tear down, load out, and clean up.
9:45 p.m.: A final garbage sweep wraps up the night. Cocktail straws are scattered everywhere, like neon pick-up sticks. The branded Thursdays on First cups—required to serve all alcoholic beverages—are stacked and recycled. “We ordered 78,000 cups for this season,” Laura shares, “and they’re half gone.” Any problems with drunken riff-raff? “Not really,” she smiles. “I think because we are a family-friendly event. And we close early.”
10:30 p.m.: 34,000 Fitbit steps later, Laura arrives home. She takes off her socks and shoes and ends her day as practically as it began, by climbing into bed and watching the news. What does she do on Fridays? She starts getting ready for the next Thursday, of course.