Under the spreading boughs of giant live oaks at Hernando County's historic courthouse, Laurie Kennedy waited patiently for her first customer of the day.
The aroma of freshly made kettle corn wafting through the cool breeze served as an enticing calling card. Nearby, about a dozen other vendors put finishing touches on the booths they had set up for Brooksville's weekly farmers market on Main Street.
After several years of being open on Saturdays, the decision three weeks ago to move the market to Fridays was made in the hope of avoiding competition from a growing number of flea markets and other outdoor markets, said Lisa Callea, president of the Brooksville Business Alliance.
"We've had a lot of positive feedback from it so far," Callea said. "There are people downtown on Friday that probably don't come on Saturday unless they have a reason to. We're seeing lots of new faces."
Callea said that the market, which is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Fridays, has also gotten a positive nod from her longtime vendors, as well as the owners of downtown businesses, many of which are closed on Saturdays.
Dennis Hodge, owner of the newly opened Southern Ladies & a Gent bistro on Broad Street, said the market has brought a noticeable increase to his business on Fridays. So much so that he now offers a fried fish special throughout the day.
"I believe in anything that helps keep people downtown after hours," said Hodge. "I think it's just what we need right now."
Started in 2008, Brooksville's was the only open-air farmers market in Hernando County, attracting between 20 and 30 vendors every week. But when organizers of the Hernando County Farmers Market set up shop two years ago on Commercial Way in Spring Hill, many of Brooksville's vendors followed. The reopening of the Airport Farm and Flea Market last October further eroded Brooksville's support.
"People in business are going to go where they think business will be better," Callea said. "We have a loyal following that's stayed with us because they think it's going to build."
Criss Holzaepfel, owner of Woodapple Farms in Floral City, a small company that makes soaps, lotions and other products from goat milk, is one of them. She said she prefers the unhurried atmosphere of the downtown market, and likes being near local stores that carry her products.
"We've established a good market in Brooksville," Holzaepfel said. "Being at a farmers market that's been around for a long time is a great way to attract new customers."
Callea said she has the blessing of the county and city to continue holding the market on Fridays, and wants to work with other event organizers to try and coordinate their activities to coincide with the market. Of particular interest would be moving the city of Brooksville's monthly Uptown Block Party, which is held on Thursday evenings in the City Hall parking lot.
"I think there's a strong link between that event and ours," Callea said. "It would give people even more of a reason to come downtown."
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.