tampabay.com

Visions of 'booktown' begin to take shape

By MICHAEL KRUSE
Published February 26, 2007


BROOKSVILLE - Marty Cummins of the Jack Kerouac Project of Orlando was here Sunday afternoon to see for the first time this town he wants to help turn into a so-called "booktown." He walked around on an informal tour led by city redevelopment coordinator Brian Brijbag and then talked with downtown business owners and other interested local folks at the Rising Sun Cafe. All of it added up to the latest step - and the biggest step yet - in the progression of this possibility that could change the feel and even the financial reality of the Hernando County seat.

Some of Cummins' comments along the way:

"Just an amazing, amazing building."

"Look at these homes. And these porches."

"You have such potential here."

Sunday was an exchange of information, nothing make-or-break, and no decisions were made, but the four or so hours Cummins spent in town included stops at buildings and homes, a grouper sandwich lunch at Maw's Vittles, a crowd of about 25 people at the Rising Sun and finally the next logical step in this ongoing conversation - the funding, the source, the specifics, the numbers.

Not long into the afternoon, though, Cummins floated the idea of changing the name Brooksville to Booksville.

Officially.

"It's something we could consider," Brijbag said. "It's not that big of a step."

He was smiling. But he wasn't joking.

But first things first: The Kerouac Project started in 1997 and is based in Orlando's College Park neighborhood in a restored bungalow where Kerouac lived in 1957 and '58. Kerouac was one of the most influential American writers of the 20th century. On The Road is his most famous work.

Cummins, the president of the project, and his wife, who is also one of the founders, are former bookstore owners, and they now want to spread the spirit of the Kerouac Project to a series of these booktowns around Florida, then the Southeast, then beyond. That means the thrust of the local economy would include bookstores, book-themed cafes, restaurants and bed and breakfasts, literary festivals and also writers in residence. They are looking at Brooksville to be the first.

This dialogue between Cummins and Brooksville began in earnest early last month.

On Sunday, Cummins, his wife and his wife's mother showed up shortly after 1. They parked in front of the boarded-up windows of the 1915-built red-brick J.A. Jennings building and crossed the street to the Rising Sun.

Cummins met Brijbag for the first time. They've gotten to know each other over the phone, and have gotten along, and they got along Sunday, too. They're both excitable idea people who talk with their hands.

Brijbag led the tour.

Cummins looked at Monique Swann's going-out-of-business Creative Porch & Garden and saw a tearoom.

He looked at the abandoned Jennings building - "one of the biggest eyesores" in town, Brijbag told him - and saw a hotel and a bed and breakfast where the rooms would be named after authors.

He looked at the old, long Brooksville Lumber building a bit down the hill on Main Street, and looked at the exposed-wood interior, and the hardwood floors, and the barn-like beams high up in the ceiling.

"I'm in love with this building," Cummins said.

He started pointing in all different directions.

There's the bar, he said.

There's the dinner theater.

There's the 200-seat restaurant.

Here are the books.

What this "booktown" idea actually would look like started to come into focus on Sunday. The Brooksville Lumber building: the restaurant and cafe bookstore. The Jennings building: the bed and breakfast for visitors and possibly the writer or writers in residence. The other existing businesses with a bookselling presence as well: Christian books at the Rising Sun, for instance, books on antiques and collectibles at Evelyn Duncan's Antique Sampler Mall, books on home decor at Pierre Desjardins' Easy Street store.

Also possibilities: a history and Civil War book festival linked to the Brooksville Raid in January, a ghost and mystery book festival around Halloween, a Christmas book festival toward the end of the year based at Rogers' Christmas House.

"The town works physically," Cummins said. "The concept would work here."

The get-together at the Rising Sun at 3 drew an audience that included Swann, Duncan, Desjardins, owner Donna Jones of the Christmas House, Bob Martinez of Old Brooksville in Photos & Stories and local artist Mary Alice Queiros.

Here is where this conversation started the necessary shift from the idea to the details of the potential implementation. More specifically: money. More specifically than that: Whose, and how much?

Cummins and his wife would get consulting fees for their expertise, business plan and some of the initial inventory of books.

"We're talking five figures, not six figures," he told them.

The much bigger money, though, would come with the buying of real estate and the actual renovation of the two possible anchors - old Brooksville Lumber and the Jennings building. The lumber building is listed at $398,000, and the Jennings building isn't for sale yet, but the man from Tarpon Springs who owns it is willing to sell.

That money could come from someone in Brooksville, a large group of people in Brooksville, outside investors brought in by Brijbag and Cummins or a combination of all of the above.

Then, Cummins said, Brooksville could be Booksville.

"If you take the 'r' out of your name," he told the folks at the Rising Sun, "and officially become Booksville, you would get national news coverage. Doing an official name change would have massive marketing potential.

"You will have people flocking," he said.

Michael Kruse can be reached at mkruse@sptimes.com or 352 848-1434.