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Hernando fair, blueberry festival officials pleased with weekend crowds

Carolina Wiwchar serves a bowl of homemade blueberry shortcake  Saturday during the two-day Florida Blueberry Festival, which ended Sunday.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Carolina Wiwchar serves a bowl of homemade blueberry shortcake Saturday during the two-day Florida Blueberry Festival, which ended Sunday.

BROOKSVILLE — If Hernando County roads seemed a little more crowded this past weekend, there was good reason. The convergence of the 63rd Hernando County Fair and Youth Livestock Show and the Florida Blueberry Festival, plus near-perfect spring weather, combined to attract huge crowds, leaving organizers of both events pleased.

The fair wrapped up its nine-day run Saturday with what spokeswoman Sandra Nicholson called "a huge crowd" on the final day. Fears that the fair's finale might be competing with the opening day of the blueberry festival didn't materialize, she said

"I think it might have even helped," Nicholson said. "We had a big crowd for the demolition derby. We had to scooch them together in the grandstand."

Nicholson said that despite light crowds on weekdays, she was generally pleased with the turnout for the fair, where the governing body is the subject of an investigation over the handling of its finances.

"Everyone worked very hard to make it a success," Nicholson said. "I didn't hear one complaint."

The Florida Blueberry Festival brought teeming crowds to downtown Brooksville for the third straight year, causing a boon not only for the vendors, but for downtown businesses as well.

While attendance figures won't be ready until later this week, festival chairwoman Michael Heard thinks the two-day event easily topped last year's estimated crowd of 33,000, and points to the sale of 900 blueberry pies — roughly twice as many as last year — as prime evidence.

"Everything was up over last year, and I think people went away happy they spent their day here," Heard said.

Perhaps even more important was that people who came seemed to stay longer, thanks to an expansion of features such as the kids activity zone, art exhibits and continuous live entertainment.

"When you give people more to do and look at, they're going to want to stay," Heard said.

In addition, she said, this year's event benefited from a revised layout that located more activities in level areas that were easier for patrons with physical limitation to navigate.

While festivalgoers bought food and craft items from out-of-town vendors, many also supported local restaurants and stores.

Peggy Bell, owner of the Main Street Eatery, said business was so brisk that she brought in friends and family members to help. Throughout the weekend, she heard nothing but good things about Brooksville from out-of-town visitors with whom she spoke.

"People seem to love our little town," Bell said. "That should make everyone feel good."

Dana Reuter, who runs Easy Street Home Decor on N Brooksville Avenue, said that business was "exceptionally good" at her store throughout the weekend.

"People stopped in to check us out," Reuter said. "Even if they didn't buy anything, they at least know we're here now."

The festival's future, and any possible changes, will be discussed in the weeks ahead by the event's board of directors, Heard said.

Hernando County tourism coordinator Tammy Heon praised both the blueberry festival and the fair in that they lured visitors to the county and provided them with positive experiences.

"It helped that we had some of the best weather we've had all year," Heon said. "And although there's no way you can control that, people who come to your community and have a pleasant time while they're here are going to remember it."

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

Hernando fair, blueberry festival officials pleased with weekend crowds 04/15/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 15, 2014 7:43pm]
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