Jim Oliver has seen a lot in his 74 years in the Midtown area. As a kid, he shopped at the bustling Sidney Harden's corner grocery. Nearby, at the Manhattan Casino, music icons James Brown and Ray Charles jammed to packed houses.
But after Interstate 275 was built, it cut off the south side of the city, depriving it of visitors, the lifeblood of any business district. Drugs and crime took over.
In recent years, entrepreneurs fixing up old buildings and a new mayor who promised help for the struggling area have given residents hope. On Sunday, a Florida Main Street community group held the first of what they hope to be weekly open-air markets. Called "Deuces Live Sunday Market," the event got its name from its location of 22nd Street, historically referred to as "the Deuces."
"This is a very positive thing," said Oliver, a retired teacher who leads a mentor program for children. He hopes the market, along with some new merchants will restore the area to its glory days.
Large speakers blasted the Beatles' Here Comes The Sun and Katrina and the Waves' Walkin' On Sunshine. Vendors sold cakes, pies, jewelry and jerk chicken. Visitors also could buy fresh cabbage, lettuce, potatoes, tomatoes, bananas and apples. Most were only $1. (The main source of fresh produce in the area is a Walmart, which opened after a Sweetbay closed in February 2013.)
Mayor Rick Kriseman and his 11-year-old son were among those who chowed down.
"This is awesome," Kriseman crowed to someone who greeted him. The mayor, who made revitalization of the area a cornerstone of his campaign, received a rock-star reception, with people asking to take his photo or bend his ear on an issue.
"We want to make a difference," Kriseman said. "Our goal is to bring opportunity to everyone in all sides of the city."
Tony Macon, who opened his Esquire barbershop in a building where he once got haircuts as a kid, said Kriseman's efforts have been sincere.
"The city has done a wonderful job," he said of the assistance it offered the Main Street group, which he serves as president.
Macon said he's not worried about the market competing with existing businesses. The events will probably help them by bringing foot traffic.
Convenience store owner Naim Mubarak said the parking near his store gets taken up, but he expects some new customers. He said the crime rate has gone down in recent years, thanks to redevelopment efforts.
"We used to have to call the police twice a day," said Mubarak, who has been at the corner of 22nd Street and Ninth Avenue since 1990. "Now it's twice a year."
Organizers say they want to do more than just restore pride to an area where, according to a 2011 city-data.com study, 36 percent of residents fall below the poverty line. They also want to lure customers from other parts of the city, to be known as one community.
Tim and Amy White were just the types they were looking for. The couple saw the market promoted on TV and drove from Indian Rocks Beach to check it out. They said they plan to return.
"It's great that it's on a Sunday," said Amy, 43, who bought a skirt. "Saturday is a little busy."