BROOKSVILLE — By 2 p.m. Saturday, Rachael Vera decided it was time for a break.
After listening to live bands, perusing various arts and crafts booths, and taking in a lot of sun, she and her 4-year-old daughter, Cara, found a shady spot on the steps of the Hernando County Courthouse and dug into fresh blueberry shortcake.
"Unbelievable," Vera said as she slid a plastic spoonful of the creamy concoction into her mouth. "Now this is what I call heaven."
If organizers of the inaugural Florida Blueberry Festival were looking for endorsements, they didn't have to look far in downtown Brooksville, where thousands gathered for what many hope will become a signature event.
From visitors to vendors to downtown merchants and city residents, everyone seemed pleased that the festival had lived up to its hype.
"We really needed this," longtime real estate broker Gary Schraut said as he threaded his way through crowded Main Street. "I think it's the start of something really great for the community."
Shop owners who usually look out onto nearly vacant downtown streets most weekends agreed. While attendance likely won't approach the number organizers had originally hoped for, the three-day street festival drew a strong crowd — many of them out-of-towners — eager to spend money.
"I have no complaints at all," lemonade vendor Don Little said while preparing a tall, icy drink for a customer. "I'm making money and I'm having fun."
Patricia and Lucio Correa, owners of Enchiladas Mexican Restaurant on Broad Street, said business was so brisk that they tripled their staff and opened an outdoor Cinco de Mayo-themed grill to handle the extra traffic.
"All of the customers have been so nice," Patricia Correa said. "They seem to like what they've been experiencing. We hope they'll come back."
Though most seemed to enjoy the event, there were a few complaints.
Joanne Best of Lakeland said she didn't like having to purchase "blueberry bucks" in order to buy most of the vendor food and beverages available.
"It's a hassle and a huge waste of time," she said. "There's nothing wrong with cash."
The festival will continue from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. today. Admission to the event is free; however, all parking is off-site and ranges from $10 to $15 per car. For information, visit floridablueberry festival.org.
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or [email protected]