TARPON SPRINGS – Tarpon’s historic downtown district was bustling with life again last weekend, as the city hosted the return of the monthly First Friday street festival as well as Independence Day activities for the first time since the pandemic began early last year.

The holiday weekend festivities kicked off on Friday, July 2, with the first First Friday since March 2020, and threatening weather didn’t deter thousands of visitors from packing several blocks of Tarpon Avenue and surrounding businesses for the return of the Tarpon Springs Merchants Association’s immensely popular monthly street festival.

According to Carol Rodriguez, the TSMA’s special events coordinator, the return of First Friday was a welcome sight for everyone, including the city’s beleaguered business owners.

“It was so good to be back,” Rodriguez said via text. “The band was great, our shops and restaurants and breweries were really busy, and all our vendors were happy. I think everyone had a great time.”

After thanking the Tarpon Springs Police Department and city officials, including Public Works Director Tom Funcheon, for helping organize the event, Rodriguez said the TSMA would likely make some tweaks moving forward. “We’d like to get more ‘no parking’ signs and change a few things,” she said, noting the biggest issue in setting the event up is moving, and removing, illegally parked vehicles. “And we could use more volunteers to make sure the vendors get in the right spot. So, there were a few hiccups. But I thought everything went well and it was a good steady flow of people in the downtown throughout the night.”

Two days later, on Sunday, July 4, Tarpon rec department officials oversaw the return of the Fourth of July Picnic in Craig Park, a longstanding staple of the city’s special event calendar that features live entertainment, games and activities for kids as well a traditional July 4 hot dog eating contest.

Mayor Chris Alahouzos kicked off the picnic, which is sponsored by Waste Management, with a brief speech from the bandshell stage while a woman in a Statue of Liberty costume surrounded by dancers stood nearby; afterward he spoke about the return of one of the city’s most beloved holiday traditions.

“After the pandemic and the restrictions and seeing the country return to normal, I am glad we’re able to have our annual Fourth of July picnic for the people of Tarpon Springs again,” Alahouzos said. “This is very well-organized, with a barbecue and activities for the kids, and I want to thank staff and all the volunteers and Waste Management for putting this event together.”

When asked how it felt to see the downtown district full of revelers again for First Friday, the mayor said, “It was exciting to see First Friday begin again. People were excited to be there, having a good time and seeing each other again for the first time in more than year. It was great for the local business, too. It was nice to see.”

The mayor noted he planned to watch the city’s fireworks show later that evening, albeit from a location outside of Fred Howard Park.

“It gets so crowded in there I don’t want to get stuck!” Alahouzos said of the always packed park. “But our fireworks display is always terrific, and I’m looking forward to seeing them return to the skies over Tarpon Springs tonight.”