Every Friday, Main Gate Square--the area of shops and restaurants on University Boulevard between Park and Euclid avenues--hosts Almost Free Fridays. Running from 5 to 7 p.m., these events exist thanks to Jane McCollum, the general manager of the UA's Marshall Foundation. McCollum's goal has been to transform Main Gate Square every Friday into an "urban event" center that boasts free entertainment, public art and food and beverage discounts. This Friday, Oct. 28, Main Gate Square will be transformed into Ghost Central (copyright pending) when it hosts a Halloween-themed Almost Free Friday. Upcoming themed Fridays include a UA homecoming pre-party on Nov. 4 and a scavenger hunt on Nov. 11.

Can you give a brief history of Almost Free Fridays?

It started as a result of talking to merchants about what they wanted to do down here. They wanted a signature event. They wanted it to promote parking so that people would come down and find parking easy instead of difficult. And they--and I--wanted it to be organic, meaning that it would sort of ebb and flow, and that it would be featuring them, not necessarily the stuff that happens outside of them. I mean, there would be stuff going on in the streets, but the focus would be, "What's the entertainment going on inside of the merchants' stores and the restaurants?" They said, "We want it to be like a happy hour, but we don't want it to necessarily have to include the alcohol." So, it'd be discounted retail, discounted food, two-for-one ice cream cones, but along with that, you would come down on Friday after work and be able to have your happy hour beer prices and your happy hour food specials, as well as enjoy all these other things. ... Last week, for example, we had dancers who were willing to give dance lessons. They would entertain for a while, and then they would teach you how to do the tango and salsa dancing and swing dancing.

What are some of the planned events for this week's Halloween-themed Friday?

Well, the Halloween one has just gotten way big, which is fun. My merchants are way into it. We've asked them to dress up, and so we're hoping we'll see a majority of our merchants in costume. We have costume contests for all ages. We have three different contests: For kids under 10, for kids 11 to 17, and then for 18 and over.

And what are the prizes for that?

They'll be free stuff. Free food ... it's kind of a wide variety from the merchants.

What else will you have?

Johnny Rockets is hosting a "Monster Mash" dance contest. I think they're giving away stuff to get people to enter, and it's going to be held on their patio. Gentle Ben's is sponsoring sidewalk chalk art, so if you want to be creative and draw spooky pictures on their sidewalk, you can do that. Penguins has a pumpkin decorating contest, and I don't think it will be carving; just decorating. They'll provide the pumpkins.

What is this Creepy Feelers that's happening at the Arizona Bookstore?

I don't know what it means, but I'm assuming it's for little kids and should be pretty fun.

I see No Anchovies will be showing old horror movies; do you know which ones?

I don't. ... They had projection TVs installed on their patio last year, so they'll play those movies outside. Also, we've added breakdancing from Espresso Art, and then there will be ... Day of the Dead art in Geronimo Plaza, and that just came in this afternoon. And then we are offering, at many of the merchant stores, safe trick-or-treating.

What will they be giving away?

Candy or coupons. Like a coupon for a free cone, so they won't know what will go in the bag.

And parking will be free?

Parking is validated every Friday from 4 until 8, and any of the merchants will validate with a purchase.

Real quick: Favorite horror movie?

I'm not the horror movie person, so I'd just say Halloween. That's probably the last one I saw.

What about dressing up? Do you have a costume?

I won't be, because I'm actually turning 50, and my friends are taking me on a trip. So, I'll be in Seattle. My 50th birthday is Halloween! I would be in costume if I was going to be here, and I'm sad that I'm missing it, but I'm also glad to have that nice birthday surprise.

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