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LET'S DO THIS THING — Rei Blaser, left, president of the Sebastopol Downtown Association and organizer of Arts+Beats+Eats, with Keith Church, one of the musicians at the new Friday evening celebrations downtown.

Sebastopol has a reputation as a town that rolls up its sidewalks early, but a new program called Arts+Beats+Eats, by the Sebastopol Downtown Association (SDA), is out to change that.

Every Friday from May to October, a group of downtown merchants will be keeping their stores open later than usual as a part of an experiment in community building and economic development, spearheaded by Rei Blaser, the president of the SDA.

Blaser came up with the idea for this event in conversation with members of the Sebastopol Economic Vitality Group, an informal group of local business leaders that includes Chamber of Commerce Director Linda Collins, Sonoma West Publisher Rollie Atkinson and others. They thought up the name for the event at the following SDA meeting, and Blaser took on the task of organizing the whole thing.

“At first, Arts+Beats+Eats was just going to be once a month on the third Friday,” Blaser said. “Then I realized that there were already several businesses in downtown that were open later, like Copperfields, and, of course, all the restaurants and bars — and we could build on that.”

Blaser said that having the businesses along Main Street stay open a little later would add to the nascent sense of a nightlife that’s already happening elsewhere in town, like the Live Music Fridays at Pax Wines and the Thursday through Sunday music events at Fern Bar in The Barlow, Saturday night music at the Star and the Thursday night Rare Grooves DJ at Mother’s Ruin. Not to mention the late night gaming at Gryphon’s Nest on Fridays.

Arts+Beats+Eats wasn’t created as a tourist event — though they’re more than welcome. It’s aimed mostly at locals, but locals in a larger sense.

“Sebastopol is really the center for all west county,” Blaser said. “We have a huge local base.”

She said she would love to see residents from the surrounding communities of Graton, Forestville, Freestone, Occidental and other outlying areas join in the fun.

“We want it to have a light, happy hour feel to it,” she said, noting that different stores will be offering different events and specials each week.

Last Friday night, on May 10, there were musicians strategically located throughout downtown, including the Analy-based jazz group, Cat’s Growl, at Cultivate and singer Daria Blue, who was singing her heart out at People’s Music.

“I made the commitment to staying open ’til 7 p.m. on Friday nights to help get things started,” said Cultivate owner Kathy Anderson.

That night, Cultivate was featuring the work of local chocolatier Jill McLewis of Eye Candy, whose shop is located in front of Coffee Catz. McLewis was on hand offering tastes of her dark chocolate-covered popcorn and running a “Guess the Percentage of Cocoa” taste test.

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CULTIVATING COMMUNITY – Jill McLewis, left, of Eye Candy was giving out samples of her chocolate-covered popcorn at Cultivate, owned by Kathy Anderson, right.

“Not every store will be open every Friday, but many will, and they’ll take turns doing different kinds of events and specials,” Blaser said, noting that Silk Moon, where she works when she’s not working for the SDA, will join the festivities in June.

Annie Bignon at Indigo Denim Bar will be pouring local wines as soon as her alcohol permit comes through.

“I think it’s just going to evolve organically over the next several months,” Bignon said. “It’s happy hour basically, a kind of pre-night-out event.”

In addition to local bars that will be open, Blaser said that the Dhyana Center above Cultivate will be open, pouring its elixirs and herbals concoctions for those seeking a non-alcohol happy hour experience.

This coming Friday night, on May 17, there will be more music, and Funk and Flash is going to have a psychic clairvoyant doing readings.

Despite the fact that Arts+Eats+Beats will cost participating businesses some money in terms of staffing for the extra hours, Blaser said most merchants have been enthusiastic about the idea.

Gwion Raven, owner of Milk & Honey on North Main Street, put it this way: “Milk & Honey loves Arts+Beats+Eats,” he said. “We support local artists and artisans in our shop, and we are excited to see it spreading all over downtown.”

For more information, contact sebastopoldowntown@gmail.com.

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