A gray overcast sky hinting at the possibility of rain didn't stop Hernando County newcomer Mitch Llewellyn from making his way down a line of booths and tables oozing freebies from local businesses on Thursday evening for anyone who wanted them.
Llewellyn, a Spring Hill resident for only a year seemed to be on a mission. He bounced between tables like a pinball off bumpers sampling Domino's Pizza, a cold drink from Sonic and waited in line for additional samplings of food from restaurants and caterers promoting their best.
"I came to Spring Hill because it's cheaper to live here than in New Jersey, said the retiree as he watched two servers from Hooter's fill his Styrofoam plate with impromptu chicken wing hors d'oeuvres. "My first stop was in Hudson," he said, "but I came up here because there's less crime. You know Pasco."
Hailing from Spring Lake, N.J., Llewellyn was among the several hundred people who were invited to attend the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce event Thursday at the Weeki Wachee Springs State Park.
The event, which is in its 10th year, has always been billed basically for newcomers. However, Pat Crowley, chamber president, explained the event has transitioned to more of a residents' reception.
While new residents were the primary target group, Crowley said the chamber has worked in the past with the property appraiser's office and gleaned addresses of people that have recently moved into the community.
This year, the chamber sent out 2,500 invitations in select ZIP codes, with about 10 percent of those invited showing up. A chamber member radio station, WXJB, broadcasted live from the event and snagged listeners, enticing them with a promise of food and free items from chamber members.
Dan Rottino was checking out literature at the Monster Transmission table and spoke briefly with business co-owner, Curt Thomas.
Rottino said he and his wife, Kathy, have lived in the Weeki Wachee area for almost a year. He explained that they had looked different places for a home but decided to come to Hernando County to retire.
"We bought a nice home in a perfect location near Blackbird Avenue" he said.
Thomas, an active member of the chamber, added that he spoke to several people who stopped at the Monster Transmission table and told him they recently moved to Hernando County within the past six months.
Still there were folks like Barbara Eason. She said she has been a resident of Spring Hill for seven years. She said she was there with her husband, Godfrey, the newly elected president of the Kiwanis Club of Spring Hill. Godfrey and members of that organization were among the 105 tables lined along the main pathway of the park with hopes of attracting new members from the scores of residents at the event.
Some tables offered free reminders to vote for their candidates, others offered free information regarding religion, health, autos, money and homes. Service organizations and various businesses looked for new recruits and prospective customers.
"We are a proponent of businesses supporting business," said Crowley. "And with over a hundred chamber member businesses on-hand, the event was a way for everyone to have the opportunity to know what the other side of the county offers from wherever they lived."