ROCHESTER, Minn. (WCCO) — This summer, we’re highlighting the many ways Minnesotans are getting back together.

In Rochester, Thursdays Downtown is back.

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Rochester is a city known around the world because of the state of the art medical care. It’s been an especially heavy year, and people there are especially grateful to be getting back together.

Thursdays Downtown is a 10-year Rochester tradition, but this year is different.

Different for the 20,000 patrons.

“It’s completely amazing to see people out here, no one is wearing a mask,” Rochester native Dwight Campbell said. “There’s a lot of money going around the community, people are coming downtown and so, yeah, it’s a really good feeling to come out and see the community getting back together again after all that happened last year.”

Different for the 80 vendors.

“Right now, the kickoff and the amount of people that are here, that are nearby each other is great. It’s fun,” Ben Ankeny of Little Thistle Brewing Company said.

And it’s different for the thousands of healthcare heroes who work just feet away.

“We were just saying how exciting and good this feels to be back into somewhat of a normal state out here,” Kate Nelson, a physician’s assistant at Mayo Clinic, said.

For the staff of the Mayo Clinic, the past year has been anything but normal, especially for those on the COVID unit, like nurse practitioner Michelle Myers.

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“It was scary at that time and to come and see everybody back together, this is what we worked towards, this is what we wanted to do and it feels good to see how resilient we are,” she said. “It definitely feels, yeah, more meaningful this year to kind of see that and show far we’ve come.”

“Getting up everyday and coming and literally being at ground zero, trying to help care for these people, that was tough,” Nelson said. “We’re so lucky, we’re so lucky to have a little bit of normalcy back.”

And resilient they are, enjoying an old favorite of a festival with a new sense of gratefulness.

“To be around hundreds of people, thousands of people, it’s a little bit shocking, but to me it’s really exciting,” Carroll’s Corn owner Seamus Kolb said. “I mean, this is just kinda proof that we can get through this stuff.”

Like many small business owners, the leader of Carroll’s Corn has been through some tough stuff.

“We went into a panic. Where are the sales gonna come from? How are we gonna keep our employees? How are we gonna stay in business?” Kolb said. “So to have it back this year is phenomenal.”

So after a year of keeping their distance, these Minnesotans are coming in close, and the more the merrier.

“So if you have nothing to do, come to Rochester, we will take care of you,” Campbell said.

About 26,000 people are expected to be out in Rochester Thursday, and that number may tick upwards because country recording artist Jared Niemann is performing at 7 p.m.

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This is the first Thursday of many, as these events will run for the next 10 weeks.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield