“Chicken tacos!” a Jefe Rojo employee shouts out. A group of people all look around, trying to determine if that’s their order, before I walk up and grab my tacos.
After looking up and down the block, I sit on the curb, placing my feet on the closed-off city street. Although there are benches all the way down the block, they already have hungry occupants.
I take a bite of my taco, and the smoky charred chicken brings in memories from past years. I think back to high school, when my minimum-wage job paid for my tacos and boba tea at Thursdays Downtown. I look around anxiously wondering if I’ll run into people I knew, or if it’ll be the same group of doctors, children, and other Rochester residents (and guests).
Thursdays Downtown (previously Thursdays on First) is a well-loved Rochester tradition. Every Thursday, the city closes off three blocks downtown and allows various vendors to set up. They sell food, drinks, decorations, and clothes. Some vendors have a spot they set up all summer while others visit every other week. There are always two different bands that play in the evening.
Last year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Thursdays Downtown was cancelled, leaving many natives wondering what their signal that summer had started would be. On July 8, Thursdays Downtown came back, bringing a renewed sense of community.
Shanna McCann, owner of Simply Soaps for Simple Folks, came back to Thursdays Downtown for what she guessed to be her 12th year. She didn’t remember exactly when she started selling her products there but knew she’d been there for over a decade.
Over the years she’s created bonds with customers and other businesses, including Lark Toys. The southeast Minnesota toy store sells fudge every year for Thursdays Downtown. McCann said she’s been set up next to Lark Toys for years and that they typically request they get set up next to each other.
“I’m a solo worker here running this and they’re just awesome. They watch for me while I run to the bathroom and I help out with them if they need it,” McCann said. “We share a lot of laughs together. They’ve been my neighbors forever.”
Along with the veteran vendors, new ones pop up every year. This year one new vendor included Seto’s Bakery, a new Rochester-based Mediterranean bakery. They don’t yet have a shop but were excited to be set up on Thursdays Downtown.
By 4:30 p.m., they’d already sold all the items from one of their two tables and had a couple of pies set aside that people had bought and were picking up later.
“Three days [ago] I started baking and today I was excited to get loads in the car and come here,” said Eman Abdlmuaty Seto Bakery owner. “I’m so happy today.”
Abdlmuaty said she will be set up at Thursdays Downtown every week for the summer. If you stop by, make sure to pick up some of her signature baklava.
Right in front of one of the stages, one of Rochester’s most famous residents danced all day: Joe Johnson, the Second Street Waving Guy.
Typically he stands on Second Street waving, either with his hands or a flag, to passersby, but instead on Thursday, he danced to the music, decked out in several prints, including rainbow and the American flag.
During the day, various Mayo Clinic doctors and nurses were seen walking through downtown during their lunch breaks, dressed in their scrubs and name badges. There were families with children running around and peeking up at the different sweets. Teenagers walked around in groups, looking distinctly Gen Z. And couples switched between holding hands and holding food.
Marcela Montes and Rafael Baglio, a young couple that attends the University of Minnesota in Rochester, said they’re excited to see Thursdays Downtown return because there’s now something for them to do.
“There was nothing in Rochester to do [last year]. I did everything that I could in Rochester. But there wasn’t [Thursdays Downtown], there wasn’t the concerts in the park,” Baglio said, referring to the Riverside concerts, which also returned this summer. “It’s definitely really nice to be back doing it again.”
They said their favorite booths were the Snappy Dog Salsa and Four Daughters Vineyard and Winery. They recommended the sangria slushies. They also noted that Chester’s has the cheapest drinks.
Married couple Janet and Dave Jostes brought their almost 5-month-old puppy Lucy out to socialize at the street fair. The Josteses said they love to people watch and try out new foods at Thursdays Downtown.
“We missed it last year. We definitely missed coming down here and the music, and meeting friends down here,” Janet said.
Everyone seemed ecstatic to be back out celebrating summer, Rochester, and the small businesses from across Minnesota that sold their products.
“Summer is here in Rochester,” Baglio said.
Thursdays Downtown runs every Thursday from 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. on First Ave. SW and NW, Third St. SW, and Peace Plaza in Rochester. There is free parking downtown after 5 p.m.
Learn more about Thursdays Downtown in Rochester by clicking here.