Tonight’s 3rd Thursday is the last of the year in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
Ghosts, goblins and ghouls stroll down North Street each October celebrating the annual Halloween-themed street festival and marking the end of the year’s 3rd Thursday lineup. Starting in May, the season’s themes included healthy living, baseball and the city’s own beach party. Megan Whilden organizes the events as the city’s Director of Cultural Development.
“It’s very old-school fun,” Whilden said. “It’s the kind of thing that I’d only seen in the movies when they open up a fire hydrant on a hot summer day.”
Whilden says Mother Nature graced the city with great weather as more than 40,000 people attended the five street festivals this year. She adds this year’s lineup, including the science-themed event in August that showcased more than two dozen hands-on experiments, made children the number one focus.
“If you want to increase a community’s vitality, sense of belonging and success in all areas of life you really need to start with kids,” said Whilden.
2013 marks the seventh year of the monthly event, which Whilden says can be traced back to the city’s golden age.
“Thursday was when General Electric issued paychecks,” she said. “So everyone would take their check, cash it or deposit it and they would come downtown. All the stores would stay open late and the streets would be filled with people. They said the sidewalks were so full people had to walk in the street. Seven years ago that was hard to imagine downtown.”
Whilden recalls the festival’s kickoff in 2007.
“There was an older woman on the street who was actually crying because she never thought she’d see people fill North Street again,” recalled Whilden.
But Whilden says the idea wasn’t a sure thing.
“Risky,” Whilden explained. “Most people did not think it would succeed. The first 3rd Thursday was so popular that one restaurant had a staff member quit in the middle of the 3rd Thursday because it was so busy. After that the businesses all knew they had to staff up.”
The owner of Madeleine’s Patisserie and Café hopes none of her employees quit, mainly because there’s only one other worker. Ashley Summers decided to open her restaurant across from the Beacon Cinema on North Street because of 3rd Thursday.
"3rd Thursday made us feel confident about this location in particular because the draw 3rd Thursday brings throughout the summer and into the fall is unparalleled to anywhere else in the Berkshires,” said Summers.
A native of Lanesborough, Summers has been working as a pastry chef for Richard Sandoval Restaurants in New York City for the past six years.
“The first year it happened my parents called me and they said you have to come home and come to 3rd Thursday,” she said. “They said you won’t believe the improvements to North Street. So I came, I saw it and I was amazed with the growth in Pittsfield and on North Street and how many great restaurants there are here and great little shops.”
Pittsfield Mayor Dan Bianchi says the events give Pittsfield and the Berkshires exposure as locals and people from outside the region flood North Street six months out of the year.
“It gives people a frame of reference as to what’s available in Pittsfield,” Bianchi said. “Then they will tend to come back.”
Whilden says the city is already looking for public input to help shape next year’s lineup.