In the spring of 2017, Matthew “Bull” Lasinski, owner of Southern Provisions, brought together a like-minded group of hospitality business owners located around O’Donnell Square Park to form the Canton Square Hospitality Association (CSHA). With a shared vision for a vibrant, community-oriented Canton, the CSHA aims to unite both the residents and businesses of Canton around public events and other efforts that promote community relations and beautify the neighborhood. Participants include Claddagh Pub, El Bufalo Tequila Bar & Kitchen, Looney’s Pub, Mama’s on the Half Shell, Nacho Mamas, and Plug Ugly’s Publick House.
Lasinski says he’s excited about the organization and what he hopes they will achieve. “The goal is to really reinvigorate the square, and raise money to help fund the beautification of the square. It is, in my opinion, one of the best pieces of real estate in the city and it is currently underutilized… We feel with our collective manpower and fundraising efforts that we can do a lot to work towards this goal.”
This summer, the CSHA kicked off a fun, family-friendly, free concert series called Third Fridays, held on—wait for it—the third Friday of each month, from 5:00–9:00 p.m. Neighbors can enjoy performances by local favorites, such as Joey Harkum, Grayson Moon and Steve Herrera. O’Donnell Street closes from Potomac to Linwood on both sides of the park to make room for dancing and al fresco dining, with cold beer and beverages available for purchase in the square. Even little ones are welcome, with free stroller parking on-site.
Third Fridays will continue through September. Proceeds from the events are pooled with current Canton Community Association fundraising efforts to direct dollars straight back into the community.
"Canton Third Fridays are great! Whether you're 20- or 30-something looking to step out with friends, or you're an old guy like me heading out with the family (lol), Third Fridays offer plenty of fun for everyone," says Canton resident Greg Szczepaniak, Team Leader Greg Szczepaniak Real Estate Team, Cummings & Co. Realtors.
CCA President Mark Edelson said he “attended the June event and was blown away by the amount of community members in attendance, especially the young families! It was wonderful to see so many local residents reveling in the beautiful summer weather, slowly winding down and easing into the weekend with some good food and music.”
If that isn’t enough of an endorsement, here’s what others had to say:
“I like the idea of closing the street and extending the dining areas outside. Very festive atmosphere. This sort of thing is why I live in the city. I think it works well for all, with or without kids. Those looking at it as just open-air drinking simply need to come out after the little ones' "bath time"! Something for everyone!” —Steve Cooper, Canton resident
“I have a partner and we do not have kids; however, many of our friends have little ones and it can be difficult to find a trusted sitter. This was a wonderful event because first, the singer/songwriter was really, really good. We got to hang with our friends and their kids. Their kids were able to play games with the other children and when they were hungry they walked to one of the restaurants on the square to get take out. We saw a lot of friends we don't get to see as much. It was a winner to us!” —Kevin Kacin, Canton resident
“We had dinner at Claddagh Pub outside and enjoyed the music. Would definitely go back. Enjoyed the family atmosphere.” —Steph Grocott Moore, Co-Founder, Stay Classy Canton.
Elizabeth Weber Grupp also enjoyed the evening. “I thought it was nice. We have a little one who liked the music. If you don’t have kids, it’s nice to sit outside at one of the restaurants. I like how they all extend their patios that day.” She continues, “If there’s any way to add more kids’ activities, I think it would keep people there even longer.” Grupp suggests more cement areas designated for chalk drawing, hula hoops, and push toys.
Vivian Clarke, Claddagh Pub owner and CSHA associate, believes the “hands-on” team members of the CSHA work well together because they share the same objective—to unite the community, beautify their surroundings, and put Canton on the map. She also wants to remind people that O’Donnell Square isn’t just about the bars. The square offers family-friendly, full-service restaurants and retail shops, too. Clarke invites residents and visitors alike to patronize all the businesses and fully enjoy the neighborhood.
CCA Vice President and Canton resident Amanda Bourgeois agrees. "I patronize all the businesses on the square. Now that [the CSHA] joined forces to help the CCA raise funds for its upkeep, I'm really looking forward to seeing what we can all accomplish together. I know they have some cool ideas for future family-friendly events."
The enthusiastic feedback from the community makes the CCA and CSHA delighted. “Compared to other communities in the city, in my experience, people are much more engaged in Canton, and there is much more of a sense of community here,” say Lasinski. He adds, “We always will need help to put on these events whether it is set up or break down.” If you want to volunteer, email Matt directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.