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Brooksville paints town blue for Florida Blueberry Festival

BROOKSVILLE — Normally, not much happens in downtown Brooksville on a weekend afternoon. Only a handful of people walk the streets. Most businesses are closed.

But on Saturday, it was awash in blue as thousands of people descended upon the historic city for the second annual Florida Blueberry Festival.

"I just love blueberries,'' said Teri Schummer, dipping her spoon into a blueberry smoothie. "I always come to these things for the food.''

Launched last year by a nonprofit group with support from the Florida Blueberry Growers Association, the street festival celebrates Central Florida's reputation as one of the country's top blueberry producers. This year's event featured live music, an artist garden, kids' activities and dozens of food vendors selling everything from blueberry pies and pancakes to blueberry muffins and margaritas.

The festival continues from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today.

The first day drew a sizable crowd, but probably not as large as last year when organizers estimated attendance to be 40,000 over the two days. No crowd estimate was available, but festival chairwoman Michael Heard said she was pleased with the turnout.

"Just about everyone I've talked to has been very happy so far," Heard said. "We had a few issues, but they've been minor. The best thing is, the weather has cooperated with us."

The event had a lot riding on it, as area businesses and local government entities chipped in more than $120,000 in sponsorship dollars to make it happen. For the first time, organizers added a perimeter fence around several blocks of downtown and charged admission — $5 for adults and $2 for kids.

Not everyone liked the change. "Five dollars was a little much if you're bringing kids," said Stephanie Manning of Spring Hill. "I probably would have spent more had it been free."

Several local restaurateurs reported strong sales throughout the day. Peggy Bell, owner of Main Street Eatery, said she sold more than 300 Cuban sandwiches by 3 p.m. "We did better in one day this year than we did over two days last year," Bell said.

Patricia Correa, who owns and operates Enchilada's Mexican Restaurant with her husband, Luccio, said business was down slightly compared with last year, most likely because of changes in traffic flow near her restaurant.

But she was hopeful the performance by country artist Easton Corbin later in the evening would boost sales. "(Organizers) did a good job this year," Correa said. "The economy is still not very good in Hernando County, so every little bit helps."

Logan Neill can be reached at lneill@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1435.

Brooksville paints town blue for Florida Blueberry Festival 05/04/13 [Last modified: Saturday, May 4, 2013 9:58pm]
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