Saturday mornings in downtown Brooksville, I can tell you as a parent who used to live a few blocks away, were perfect for riding bikes with little kids.
Traffic on the streets was light. Sidewalks were deserted. In the surrounding parking lots, you were sure to find nothing but empty asphalt.
What was great for toddlers on training wheels, however, was miserable for businesses owners — just one more sign that, when it came to redevelopment, Brooksville was the little town that couldn't.
Merchant groups formed and inevitably withered away. The city was either useless (the Visioning Committee) or obstructionist. In 2000, when residents complained about the inconvenience caused by one of downtown's few successful events, the Flatlanders Challenge, a City Council member signed their petition.
But then, starting six years ago, the city put in crape myrtles and brick crosswalks. Downtown businesses launched a monthly street sale called Market on Main Street and, the following year, the Bandshell Bash concert series.
A few old buildings were renovated, including the one occupied by the Rising Sun Cafe, whose owners last year organized a Saturday Farmers Market that has steadily gained popularity.
And — Wow! — it suddenly seemed to be happening. The city and its businesses were pulling together. Downtown stores that had closed their doors on Saturdays were staying open. That exalted state of revival, achieved by so many other nearby towns, finally appeared to be within Brooksville's reach.
All this history, hopefully, will help you understand just how shortsighted it would be to mess with the Farmers Market, as was proposed in a petition recently sent to the city. Some of the signers are owners of businesses outside downtown who think that closing a block of Main on Saturdays has kept traffic from their stores.
They don't want to shut the market down, they say, just move it off the street, which, of course, would defeat the whole purpose.
It's not that I don't feel for these beleaguered merchants. I do. I just don't think opening up Main is going to help. And, truthfully, I get the feeling it's not going to happen. There's a long list of names on a counter-petition circulated to save the market. And city leaders such as Mayor Joe Bernardini and City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha seem committed to doing just that.
Good. Because this is their chance to show their commitment to revitalization.
This is a mysterious process that almost needs to take on a life of its own. It's hard to know how to make it happen.
But one thing is clear: Investors who might put money into downtown businesses or buildings need to see signs of life. And, if we want them to return, so must visitors (who might, by the way, spend money in stores on their way to or from downtown).
That's why Brooksville needs the Farmers Market. Downtown is now lively on Saturdays, a place where people meeting, laugh, talk, spend money.
The only downside is that it has become a lousy place for young, unsteady bike riders, which leads to another topic: the long-neglected Good Neighbor Trail. As a lot of cities have shown, nothing brings visitors to a downtown like a bike trail.