The end of the Governor’s stay at home order on May 29th gave Illinoisans hope of social gatherings slowly becoming common again. But for one small area of Jacksonville, it meant the end of coming together, while staying apart.
South Finley Street on the west side of Jacksonville has always been known as a unique neighborhood, known for holding special gatherings including an annual block party in the summer and progressive holiday party in the winter.
Finley Street resident Allen Stare says when the stay at home order first took effect, he and his neighbors, who refer to themselves as Finlonians, knew they needed to find a Finlonian way to get through quarantine together.
“It really was my wife’s idea, Donna. She saw some pages from neighborhoods out in California that were doing what they called a wine after wellness check. So at a certain prescribed time on a cul-de-sac or a suburban street, all these families would go out with a bottle of wine and a lawn chair, sit in their front yard, have a drink and wave to their neighbors. And that way everybody has a visual and you could see everyone was out.
It was kind of fun because you have a glass of wine. And Donna thought, oh what a perfect idea for Finley Street, because we are kind of, well what I refer to it as, Mayberry with a liquor license.”
Stare says a Facebook page quickly came along, and with some alterations to the first few socially distant neighborhood gatherings, by April 1st, the daily event that came to be known as Finley at Five was born.
By then Stare had started playing music from his front porch during the socially distant social hours.
“And it’s the strangest thing, nobody asked me to do this. I just kinda pulled out a speaker and thought, oh this will be fun. So when I started taking requests, I posted my phone number to our group page and said, o.k. this is how you do requests in the age of no touch, text them to me.
So the first night we did that, boom I had seven requests. And they’ve never swamped me, but there is always right about an hours worth of great suggestions, and we get a huge gamut from the classic crooners up to very modern stuff, and we just throw it all in. But really it all works. Doing the requests, really kind of got everybody involved, it kind of drew them into it.”
Finley at Five became something everyone in the greater Finley Street area looked forward to each day. Stare says the hour of music and safely distanced conversation actually brought the neighbors a little closer together.
“That was a big part of it, we were doing it outside, no enclosed spaces. We’ve had several birthdays, we’ve had an 8th grade graduation with drive-by’s. We did a senior graduation from J.H.S. So we did a drive-by for him and I played Pomp and Circumstance, and cars came by and handed gifts out the window. So we have had those kind of celebrations as a part of it as well.
We’ve done every single night at 5pm for 62 straight days.”
Stare says over the course of the stay at home order, the event became part of the normal daily routine for the Finlonians.
“It was the weirdest thing, I mean it’s just a guy playing loud music off his porch. If you step back and think about it, I’ve often thought boy it’s just a weird little communal thing that we’ve got every night for about an hour.
And I’ve never experienced that, even deejaying. I deejayed for many years and you’re always in a room with all the people. This is just, playing out into the void, and, people gather.
Every night for the last like 45 nights, I’ve played Closing Time by Semisonic as the last song. We’ve got these weird little traditions that kind of built up out of this, and there were always the regulars that at five till five I could see them moving. They would be coming down the street and I would be turning everything on, and then when I started Closing Time every night, it was almost Pavlovian.
The chairs get pick up, everything starts going back on porches, everybody disburses and starts walking back to their houses, and by the final chords of it, the street would be empty.”
Stare says it only took a week for someone to decide a tee-shirt was in order. Soon after that a bevy of items had been devised with a special logo to commemorate the daily event, including drink tumblers.
Proceeds from sales of the tumblers were donated to food banks in the area as a way for the Finlonians to give back to the community that allowed Steve to blast music for them each night.
The end of the stay at home order gave good cause for the daily event to end. Stare says he hopes the socially distant gatherings gave people a bright spot in a dark period.
June 1st was the first quiet evening on Finley street in just over two months.