Flagler Beach, FL (December 3, 2021) In a town that’s light on commercial influence and heavy on the hometown vibe, it was a return to its roots after a year and a half hiatus for the monthly First Friday gatherings in Veterans Park on December 3rd.
Families headed to the park early to settle into their lawn chairs, angling to get the best views while watching their shining star take the stage for the youth performances that mark the holiday season in Flagler Beach.
With the flip of a switch under the watchful eye of expectant families, Flagler Beach Mayor Suzie Johnston lit up the park’s giant snowflakes and the extravagantly decorated lifeguard chairs, adopted by local businesses for the holidays as part of the “Deck the Chairs” festivities.
Coinciding with the Starry Nights kickoff event in Flagler Beach, residents and visitors strolled through the park and down Central Avenue making stops at the Gallery of Local Art, the Flagler Beach Historical Museum and Surfside Shakes before ending up on A1A to watch the lighting of the Starry Nights display along the Flagler Beach Pier.
“It’s our first First Friday in almost two years and not only is it First Friday, it’s the famous December First Friday when we have our local students out singing, and we have Surf 97.3 from out here on the pier as our First Friday host, so it’s very exciting,” said Mayor Suzie Johnston. “It’s a sense of being back together, in perfect timing, for the holidays.”
A large scale team effort helped create the 2nd annual Starry Nights event, bringing together the Flagler Beach Business Bureau, Flagler County’s Tourism Office, the Flagler Palm Coast Regional Chamber of Commerce and individual businesses, residents and nonprofits to ensure the first night’s success.
Leading the efforts behind the scenes, John Lulgjuraj, president of the Flagler Beach Business Bureau and co-owner of Oceanside Beach Bar & Grill ran tight ship to check off milestones and meet goals. The persistence paid off and on Friday night he was able to enjoy the displays alongside his family.
“Starry Nights tonight, it’s one of the best nights of the year in Flagler Beach,” he said appreciatively. “It’s perfect weather, beautiful positivity in the air, lights all over the place, and just a wonderful time to unite the whole county. It’s just an amazing feeling.”
Also working behind the scenes to help coordinate the efforts, Flagler County Tourism Office destination development and community engagement manager Debra Naughton was quick to credit the community for pitching in.
“It is bringing all the community together and of course the Flagler Beach Business Bureau headed up by Johnny Lulgjuraj and Scott Fox, it’s their baby. The Flagler Tourism Office came on board and again supported it as a big sponsor this year, we do the lights on the pier, and we added a brand new wreath on the A-Frame of the pier,” said Naughton. “Everybody was involved in making this happen and it’s a great collaborative effort and community event.”
Returning to the Roots
Selected to head up the First Friday events after the pandemic, Vern Shank, owner of Surf 97.3 FM and Pyramid DJs wanted to revisit the event’s early days and concept when it was designed to drive foot traffic into the downtown shops and restaurants.
With a love for a slower pace, oldies rock and roll, and the community, Shank says he wanted to return to the community vibe and founding spirit behind First Friday.
“We’re honored to be a part of this and kind of bring it back to the community kind of the way it was with the grassroots and the way it was brought to you by the CRA – Community Redevelopment Association. We’re happy and honored to be able to help host it and put things together tonight,” said Shank.
In addition to the lighting of the holiday’s Starry Nights displays, entertainment spanned the area’s music and dance departments from kindergarten to high school.
Shank sees the event as a true representation of what Flagler Beach stands for and an embrace of the Old Florida lifestyle.
“It was put together from Flagler Beach, for Flagler Beach and this really is, in my opinion, I know the first time out the gate is a little challenging when you’re restarting it, but I believe this represents more of the grassroots. I keep using that word. The grassroots idea that this is about the people that need to strive and survive. We want to send people to the restaurants, we want them to eat there. Over at our table, even if they’re not sponsors, we have almost every restaurant in the area and we’re handing all their stuff out for them,” said Shank.
“The reason why we want this is because this is this beautiful town here by the beach, where I live, work and play, and I just want all of us to bring it back to this wonderful grassroots. We just think it’s a wonderful place here in Flagler and we want to make it for Flagler, from Flagler.”