Published May 04. 2013 5:15PM Updated May 04. 2013 11:14PM
Mystic — Yellow and purple pansies fluttered in the breeze outside downtown businesses Saturday.
Under blue skies, children sowed lettuce and Johnny Jump Ups at a "Plant a Seed" table outside of Tidal River Clothing.
Local authors sat outside Bank Square Books, ready to sign copies of their latest work, and bars and restaurants offered discounts to diners who could prove they had purchased something downtown.
Other businesses offered face painting, arts and crafts, musical entertainment and cook-outs as part of the Mystic Stroll, a celebration of the arrival of spring and hopefully, the end of a rough patch in the quaint village's history.
"It's just nice to see people walking around with smiles on their faces and people unifying to put together a great day of activities," said Tricia Walsh, president of the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce.
She preferred not to talk about the problems downtown.
"Hopefully, we can put all that stuff behind us," she said.
A sluggish economy, construction work on the drawbridge and streetscape projects have hurt the downtown businesses, and merchants say the long-term vacancy of a block destroyed by fire 12 years ago also has been frustrating.
The bridge repair and streetscape projects are all but finished, and plans for rebuilding the so-called Central Hall building are moving through the municipal approval processes.
And though it's still a bit early for bathing suits and flip-flops, the people who do business in this tourist-reliant town are pleased that summer is coming.
"It's been brutal," said Ross Mandell, owner of Bartleby's Cafe at 46 W. Main St.
The streetscape project, meant to widen sidewalks to improve foot traffic, resulted in the elimination of 12 precious parking spaces on West Main Street, including those in front of Mandell's coffee shop. Mandell said people used to be able to park out front, run in and buy their coffee and be on their way.
"You change people's habits, and it will take them years to come back," he said.
Also, Mandell said, the new sidewalk "bump-outs" protruding into the street have made it nearly impossible for trucks to make deliveries to some of the downtown businesses.
The construction had happier results for other businesses. On the Stonington side of the village, the gate that stops traffic when the drawbridge opens has been moved back, allowing more foot traffic to congregate in front of Mystical Toys at 4 E. Main St.
"The pedestrians are 'stuck,'" said Frank Sinnett, who owns the toy store with his wife, Barbara Sinnett. "They don't necessarily come in, but it's a good feel."
The lack of parking in front of the toy store is OK, Sinnett said, because there is parking in the back.
Business is tough during the winter months, Sinnett said, and he and his wife have to be careful about purchasing large amounts of inventory until June. Still, he said, the weekends have been consistently busy, since children have birthday parties year-round and adults need to buy them presents.
Back on the Groton side of the drawbridge, Roo Bosco, interim manager of the Spice and Tea Exchange, was optimistic about the new season.
"It was a Mystic winter," Bosco said. "It slows down. But the bridge is down and people are coming back."