Downtown Brooksville is so pretty, with its hills and old courthouse, it's hard to believe that drawing investment and shoppers has been such a chronic problem.
A visioning committee, Downtown Development Inc., Brooksville Again, ReDiscover Brooksville — they all tried to solve the problem over the past 20 years while we wrote about their plans and cheered them on, and what was the end result? A few crape myrtle trees and brick crosswalks.
No more, I decided a while ago, and when I went to the Summer Nights street market on Saturday, I went just as a resident with no plans to write.
I arrived at 7 p.m., passed a stall cranking out hot, juicy hoagies and instead chose a tasty, fresh stir-fry at the booth run by my wife's store (unnamed, notice, so this is not a plug).
I ate my stir-fry on a bench in front of the courthouse, where I happened to see former county code enforcement director Frank McDowell. We chatted about retirement and the brutal budget cuts to his old operation until my son moved me along by tugging at my elbow. He was tugging all night; that's how many people there were to talk to.
I bought a week's supply of vegetables at the stall of local farmer Joann Beasley and a discount card from a junior salesman raising money for an Assembly of God church.
Though I wondered what two-for-one cheese coneys from Sonic would do to the temple that is supposedly our body, the kid was just too good. He clinched the deal by pointing out that the card entitled us to a deal on smoothies at the Rising Sun Cafe right on Main Street. In the sweltering heat — there's no getting around that — I couldn't pass on slushy fruit and a few minutes of air conditioning.
I saw more familiar faces inside because it seemed like half the county was there. It turned out to be the cafe's busiest day in five years, co-owner Lisa Callea later said.
"We got slammed beyond my wildest dreams,'' said Callea, president of the Brooksville Business Alliance, the latest group to take on the problem of too few customers downtown. They're the group that may have come up with the most promising solution — one too good not to write about.
Instead of canceling the monthly Market on Main Street for the summer, as was the case in the past, the alliance shifted the time of the market to the evening. Presto! Summer Nights, and the biggest crowd I've seen downtown since the last time I went to a Christmas parade — about 2,000 for the first event in June and even more last week, Callea said.
The next event will be Aug. 21, and the alliance is considering the idea of holding evening markets year-round.
Not that Brooksville is now fully revived or revitalized or any of the other "re'' words we've used over the years. Of course not. But Saturday proved that Hernando residents still like to meet up with friends and neighbors in our only downtown.
The stores out on the highways have easy access, ample parking and national ad campaigns. Downtown businesses have this: our bond with the historic center of the county.
If these businesses succeed, they will strengthen our connection to this community center and, though I know how hokey this sounds, to each other.
Which is why, really, I'm happy to keep cheering them on.