Lark Napier plucked a bell pepper out of the basket, held up the large vegetable for closer inspection and gave it his farmer's blessing.
"I defy anyone to find a better pepper than that anywhere," Napier said. "Ain't that vulgar?"
Napier and other local vendors hope that shoppers don't even bother trying to find better produce or antiques or hand-made jewelry anywhere else. Someday, they believe, the Market on Main Street, the Farmer's Market and the nearby flea market will be the only monthly stop Hernando residents and visitors need to make.
On the third Saturday of every month except June through August, local farmers, vendors and shop owners are turning Brooksville's Main Street into a bustling three-block outdoor market.
"I see a time when we'll have little maps of the three different stops in this area," said John Rudny, who organizes the monthly flea market at the nearby American Legion Post 99 on East Fort Dade Avenue. "It'll let people know that Brooksville is the place to shop on the third Saturday of the month."
Much like the peppers offered at Napier's stand, the Main Street markets — which aren't officially connected with each other — grew organically.
The Market on Main Street really got its start about five years ago with support from the Brooksville Business Alliance. A group of local shop owners, crafters and artisans came up with an idea to show off their wares once a month.
Over the years, the market has grown from 10 vendors to an average of 45 each month. During the market Saturday, about 60 vendors were lined up along Main to serve holiday shoppers.
Evelyn Duncan, organizer of the event and co-owner of the Antique Sampler Mall at 31 S Main St., said vendors are hoping more marketing efforts will lure more shoppers to Brooksville. She noted the city's business alliance had recently erected a large billboard off Interstate 75 before the Brooksville exit at State Road 50.
"We've got the vendors," Duncan said. "Now we just need more folks. We're really trying hard to advertise Brooksville."
Farther north on Main, starting at the intersection at Broad Street, volunteers with the Love Your Neighbor outreach group have seized on the growing buzz from the Market on Main Street. Headed up by John and Lisa Callea, owners of Rising Sun Cafe, the group met in June to discuss putting together a weekly farmers market.
The Calleas and their friends conceived of the market as a way to promote their venture and Brooksville's downtown business district. They came up with plans for the market on a Thursday in June; they were setting up booths on the street by that Saturday.
"We like bringing the community together," John Callea said. "The more local, the more earthy, the better."
The markets have proven particularly attractive to shoppers like Vic and Gail Guilino of Spring Hill. The couple came to town for a morning square-dancing lesson and left with armfuls of produce.
"We'll be back," said Gail Guilino. "The prices are much better down here."
Joel Anderson can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 754-6120.