By Catharin Shepard
A food truck rodeo, a warehouse jam concert, the return of the mullet roast – with a new twist – and more events are on the way thanks to a new nonprofit set to launch Raeford’s own “First Fridays.”
A group of local business owners
working with the city of Raeford have formed an organization to help spark life in downtown Raeford, and plan to bring the event series to the community beginning in May. The Downtown Raeford Business Association (DRBA) is a new nonprofit venture spearheaded by local businesses with a vested interest in seeing Raeford prosper.
Shelley Wilburn, owner of Wilburn Lofts meeting and event center, appeared before the Hoke County Board of Commissioners last week at the board’s regularly scheduled meeting to announce the organization and discuss its goals.
“DRBA formed from the plan to give a voice and vision to businesses within the city of Raeford. It is our defined area that distinguishes us from the Raeford-Hoke Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber’s scope is much wider than ours,” Wilburn said.
The DRBA was established as a result of Gov. Roy Cooper’s “Hometown Strong” initiative. The governor’s project helped identify community needs and also assisted the city in making a plan to boost the local economy, and improve infrastructure, Wilburn said.
A volunteer board runs the DRBA and its members have been busy for months preparing for the organization launch. They’re working toward hiring an event coordinator, Wilburn said, and have a website in the works that should go live sometime in March.
“Currently we are in the process of developing partnerships with local government, local nonprofits, economic development, Chambers of Commerce, revitalization boards and additional entities. Our mission is to inform, connect, advance and advocate for stakeholders and shareholders in our county’s seat, the city of Raeford,” Wilburn said.
As part of its initiative, the DRBA is launching a series of “First Fridays” with special events held the first Friday of a particular month.
Friday, May 1: from 5-10 p.m. in McLauchlin Park. There will be numerous food trucks with food and drinks for sale, live music, adult beverages, street performers, adult skill competition with axe-throwing Axes and X’s and activities for youth through Hoke County Parks and Recreation, according to a press release.
Friday, October 2: DRBA First Friday will feature the Jebb Mac Band in a “Warehouse Jam” at Jeff Benrud’s Dirt Industries Wraps and Graphics facility off of Stewart Street.
Friday, December 4: the December First Friday will bring the Mullet Roast back to Raeford. The once-popular event, previously hosted by the Raeford-Hoke Chamber of Commerce, will return with oysters added to the menu, a “Running of the Mullet” 5K race and live music. The event is set for the area behind Home Food on Main Street. Local musicians and fiddlers will play from the raised platform of the warehouse, according to the DRBA.
The nonprofit is also planning to re-launch a decades-old campaign called “Look First In Raeford,” meant to encourage residents to shop local and seek out local businesses to provide services.
“Our city has seen exciting retail, residential, and commercial growth in recent years, and improving the quality of life and business confidence is essential in maintaining the growth and momentum for years to come,” the DRBA’s mission statement said.
The DRBA is looking for sponsors interested in supporting the upcoming First Friday events. Sponsoring businesses receive various benefits, including having the business logo added to a t-shirt, name and logo displayed on event posters and social media, an optional sponsor booth space and other perks.
Sponsorships are available in three tiers, with Primetime sponsorship set at $300, Encore sponsorship set at $600 and Headline sponsorship set at $1,200 per event, with an additional option to sponsor all three of the 2020 First Fridays. Sponsorship agreement forms are available at Raeford City Hall and Wilburn Lofts.
Once the DRBA gets the event series up and running, they plan to open the group up for memberships so local businesses can join, organizers said. The website will include a member director and other information.
Once launched, the DRBA website will be available online at www.downtownraeford.com.