Weekend flea and farmers markets, it seems, have popped up all over Hernando County in recent years.
Regardless of one's taste in goods or ambiance, shoppers likely will find whatever they're looking for — or something they didn't realize they needed.
A nearly circular drive around the county will deliver you to the Hernando County Farmers Market on Commercial Way, just north of Spring Hill Drive; the Airport Farm and Flea Market on Spring Hill Drive near Broad Street; the Fairgrounds Flea Market and Thrift Store on Broad Street on the south side of Brooksville; and, finally, to the Downtown Brooksville Farmers Market.
The Times recently took a tour to do some comparison shopping.
At each location, vendors, collectors and, yes, you might say hucksters, serve up a smorgasbord, from fresh to new to old, along with a lot of good-humored banter, sales pitches, even an education. The venues offer as much entertainment as goods. A quick stop-and-look can lead to a fascinating daylong outing.
At the Hernando County Farmers Market, the folks from Beasley Farm begin arranging a colorful offering of fresh produce, much of it grown on the family farm east of Brooksville, about 6 a.m. each Saturday.
No matter the market's opening is 10 a.m., said one of the organizers, Desiree Canora. Shoppers generally set upon Beasley's beans, beets, cucumbers, tomatoes, squash and other produce by 7 a.m.
Spreading across six or seven stall lengths, Beasley's ranks as the single-largest vegetable seller among the outdoor markets.
The spanking clean and artful display connotes the tone of the market overall — somewhat upscale, colorful and sparkling, not the least of which is Everlast Inc. greenhouses of Masaryktown, with reasonably priced frilly or velvety orchid plants in a rainbow of hues.
Equally eye-catching, handmade and commercially produced jewelry is in abundance, along with hand-stitched textiles, from pot holders to quilts and handbags. Via the farm and the kitchen are honey, jams, cheeses, baked goods, sauces, spices and pots of herbs.
The debut of eight Tampa-based food trucks on a recent Saturday "was much better than we could ever imagine," said Canora. "We had to direct traffic in and out. A lot of trucks sold out by 1 o'clock."
The market runs to 3 p.m. The next food truck rally is scheduled for Dec. 8.
The Airport Farm and Flea Market, with a roof over each stall, has been showcasing more than 200 vendors since its early October reopening, with "farm" added to the former title.
Produce tables share space with items ranging from antique to dusty-old, need-a-new-home and new in their manufacturers' packaging.
The market, open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. each Friday and Saturday, is attracting 2,500 to 3,000 visitors on Saturdays, said new owner Nick DelCorso.
The pace ranges from pause-and-ponder to shouldering through a crowd. The atmosphere can be raucously fun.
Consider barker Ricky Gene of Hudson, who hollers so the entire building can hear as he pockets a wad of cash: "I got another happy customer here!"
Gene's sign reads, "Liquidation."
Asked what he's liquidating, the happily grubby guy deadpans, "The back of my truck."
While somewhere in that truck lurks his handmade furniture, it's nearly overwhelmed by items such as a kitschy flamingo yard ornament with Christmas lights under its wings, a pottery vase he might try to pawn off as Indian made but bearing a sticker from a local department store, plus a fabric dragon hand puppet of which he tells a shopper, "You have to feed him cloth worms."
Just as dedicated to his wares, Joe Adams of Brooksville points to a small can, under glass, of Singer sewing machine oil.
"Excellent condition," he beams, "and it still has some oil in it."
The manufacturer's painted price on the can is 30 cents. "No bar code," Adams adds.
"People collect these things," he insists.
His price: $15.
Each market draws its food vendors, but likely none quite like Frank and Lori Mostoufi of Cajun Express Seafood at the airport site. A regular purveyor of Louisiana seafood to area restaurants and fish markets, Frank said, "We thought we'd try a flea market."
While he tends chests of iced shrimp, crab and gator meat, Lori stirs appetizer-size treats in a pair of electric fry pans.
"Try shrimp sausage?" Frank asks a dubious onlooker.
He thrusts forward a toothpick-skewered bite with an alluring aroma of charcoal grill. He made a sale, and with a promise to come back for more if her husband liked it as well as she did.
North on Broad Street, at the Hernando County Fairgrounds, the Fairgrounds Flea Market and Thrift Store is decidedly attic and garage, an array of generally used household items and collectibles.
The ambience is down-home and casual.
The market is open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. each Saturday and Sunday, rain or shine.
The fair association itself staffs tables of donated goods, under roof and in air conditioning.
In front of the courthouse on Main Street, the Downtown Brooksville Farmers Market takes on the character of its setting — "more laid back and charming, with the old oaks," says chairwoman Lisa Callea of sponsor Love Your Neighbor. In place for eight years, the recently revamped market features a base of 12 to 15 vendors from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. each Saturday.
Ruth Moran of Weeki Wachee has had a spot at the market since its inception.
"This is my weekend job," the senior citizen said as she arranged earrings, necklaces and other jewelry — some that she makes, others that she buys wholesale.
Earrings are as cheap as 25 cents, including a couple pairs of hoops that likely would hang to a woman's shoulder.
"Teens like them," Moran declared.
Also on hand for eight years, Jay Trayer of Brooksville peddles well-grown potted plants, bushes — even a palm tree. The retiree's greenhouse is his third career, Trayer said.
At a corner booth on a recent Saturday, Karen Dunn of Karen's Creations in Brooksville plied a needle on an embroidered piece from her offerings of fancy hand towels to soft baby quilts.
Elsewhere, college-age students raising money for a church mission trip to Nicaragua sold cookies and small crocheted works. They chatted with customers about world needs.
Each of the markets is partial to nonprofit organizations, providing them free space to spread their messages among the weekend throngs of shoppers.