First Friday’s operations are being sold later this week to four men involved with Zappos. They vow to expand art exhibits, parking and shuttle service for the downtown art party.
The foursome, operating as First Friday LLC, are buying First Friday’s trademark, Internet presence, mailing lists and assets from nonprofit Whirlygig Inc.
The new First Friday Four are Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh; Zappos partner Fred Mossler; developer Andrew Donner (who facilitated the Zappos relocation deal downtown); and Joey Vanas, a marketer who works on many Hsieh projects.
Zappos does not have any ownership stake, says Vanas, who handles the LLC’s day-to-day operations. This is a personal investment.
Their launch event will be the ninth anniversary of First Friday on Oct. 7. Whirlygig founder Cindy Funkhouser will help with their transition for a month or more.
The deal came suddenly. Whirlygig suspended functions two months ago, although events continued in August and September.
During that time, Whirlygig approached Zappos for sponsorship but also expressed interest in selling, "to hand it off and give it some wings," Vanas says.
Hsieh and friends, downtown boosters, chose to buy.
"Cindy and Whirlygig did a great job in creating something for the community," Vanas says.
But there was only so much the one- or two-person Whirlygig could pull off without major resources, he says.
"We wanted to come in and put some real support behind it — put some infrastructure in place, and help it build and grow."
Initial plans: More art booths and music stages; an expansion of art locales starting in Fremont East; and more and better artists.
"There are artists in Las Vegas that are great artists that don’t come out and show at First Friday because there isn’t the buyer audience for their level of work," Vanas says.
"We want to change that perception, but we don’t want to cut off the young artists that are trying to make their first break."
Vanas also intends to invite outside artists from Phoenix, Southern California and other places that stage First Fridays.
As for the event’s dreaded parking, Vanas (who got a $20 parking ticket Friday) is seeking more parking lots and shuttles.
And because Vanas’ background is in marketing — at Miami’s Fontainebleau hotel, plus events here and Hsieh projects — he’s developing more marketing, advertising and public relations.
As a for-profit LLC, the group will wield more financial leeway to expand, but they’re not expecting riches, he says.
"It won’t be a profit-turner but a community event that will hopefully sustain its own growth," he says. "It’s more of an investment in the community that we all live in now."
No doubt. Three of the four live in Ogden condominiums, and Vanas is nearby.
They hope their larger infrastructure will lure more sponsors. Money also comes in from food and liquor sales, vendor fees and Friends of First Friday memberships.
Vanas is counting on the city to transform the epic permit process into a yearly event, instead of a monthly chore.
He won’t divulge the purchase price.
"It wasn’t a huge number," he says.
Funkhouser says the price will pay off an operations loan and some debts.
"Our entire board is very excited to pass the torch on to someone that capable," she says.
"They enjoy the grass-roots part of it.
"They come to the events," she says. "I’m gonna sleep pretty good at night."
Vanas says his approach is to reach out to First Friday veterans for input.
"They’ve been thinking about it for years. We’ve been thinking about it for a month. So let’s listen to those people."
Doug Elfman’s column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.