Gresham is growing and coming into its own as a tourist destination. The addition of several new restaurants has prompted the village board chairwoman, Felicia Bellwether, to create a new event—Dine Out and Shop in Gresham—that will turn Main Street into a gigantic outdoor cafe for several nights and give visitors a chance to sample the many tastes of the community, from Sigrid’s German and Italian fare to the Turkish cuisine from On the Mediterranean to Native American frybread and other dishes.
However, like many well-laid plans in the village of less than six hundred, the event turns competitive, with some restaurateurs taking aim at others with words and deeds. Before the knives can come out, though, a beloved religious leader’s expiration date is pushed up at the first night of Dine Out and Shop, leading to fingerpointing and fear that home cooking might be a safer meal choice than Gresham’s cuisine.
Zachary Gagewood, the local bookstore owner and designated community sleuth, knows he needs to find out who poisoned the meal, but with his pending nuptials to his fiance, Newell Krueger, and the threat of Newell’s sister stopping the wedding, will he be able to track down the killer before other victims fall face-first into their meal?
Felicia Bellwether, the Gresham Village Board president, sighed with contentment as she looked at the papers on her desk. She looked up at Zachary, who was sitting on the other side of her desk, and smiled. A flute instrumental was playing on the radio in Felicia’s office, and she soon started to hum to it.
Zachary was glad to see that Felicia had achieved such a relaxing point, but considering he had an appointment with her, it seemed like she should be paying more attention to why she’d called him here.
“Felicia, was there a particular reason you wanted me to come see you, because it seems like you’ve got something else on your mind. I can always come back later, and…”
“Zach, have you noticed what’s happened over the summer?”
Zachary shifted in his chair. “Well, once we got over the unfortunateness of someone being murdered in my bookstore, it seems like we had a very busy summer in the downtown area.”READ MORE
Felicia nodded in agreement. “That’s right. We had Trey Alegria open up his frybread stand. We had a new diner open up in the old Methodist church. The old restaurant at the golf course has reopened, and we’ve got a new restaurant that serves Turkish dishes. We are flush with food places.”
“You know, I hadn’t thought about it, but we do seem to have a variety of places to eat these days. It’s rather bold to have this many eateries in a village of less than six hundred people.”
“Boldness has nothing to do with it. It has to do with a strong, forward-thinking village board that wants our community to grow. We’ve been trying to entice people to visit with various festivals and events, but there’s nothing else for them once they finish up with the attractions. We’ve wanted to give them an excuse to stick around and spend a few more dollars, and food does that better than anything—no offense, Zach.”
“None taken. So, we’ve got food on every corner, so to speak. Now what?”
“Now, we turn our food into an event.” Felicia stared off into space, her eyes gleaming.
Zachary shifted in his seat. “An event?”
“We’re turning Main Street into one gigantic dining hall. On the second week in October, we’re going to have the first annual Dine Out and Shop in Gresham. How does that sound?”
“Well, aside from the fact that nothing actually becomes ‘annual’ until you’ve had it for at least two consecutive years, therefore there’s no such thing as a ‘first annual’ anything…”
Felicia sighed loudly. “My point is that we’ll be able to entice people to town with our restaurants’ exquisite menus, and while they’re in the downtown area, other businesses will benefit. The art gallery, your bookstore, the grocery store. Fall has not always been a big hit when it comes to tourism, so I figured this would be a good thing to bring more people out and about as the colorful leaves gently fall and swirl around them.”
Zachary chuckled. “Vera Greenwood’s been writing your script, hasn’t she?”
“Maybe a little, but think about it. As the days grow shorter, our Main Street will be glowing in the night as one of our entrepreneurs works hard to quench the thirst and satisfy the appetite of anyone who comes into the village, and those folks get a reputation that might help to even bolster our foot traffic next summer. Oh, Zach. I’ve been dreaming of doing something like this ever since I was elected president of the village board. We already have an awesome slate of activities throughout the year, but this would help to brighten the most beautiful season of the year. Just imagine it, my friend. Imagine the possibilities.”
“It sounds like a wonderful idea. Still, I don’t see why you called me here.”
Felicia smiled. “Well, this event’s going to be going on nightly until ten o’clock, maybe even eleven, so I was wondering if you’d be willing to stay open later that week.”
Zachary nodded. “I think we can do that. Kevin’s been wanting more hours lately for some reason, so this will help him in that regard. I’m guessing you also want me to hang a poster or some other promotional material.”
“That, and one more thing. We were thinking of putting coupon books in the shops and restaurants. If you pay full price for the dinner, you get ten percent off purchases at one of the participating downtown shops. If you pay for a full purchase at one of the shops, you get ten percent off of dinner. How does that sound?”
Zachary pondered for a moment. “That could work. Just as a heads-up, I do have an author coming that Wednesday to do a reading, so we should get the word out about that, too.”
“Absolutely. The more going on, the merrier. I know Anne Marie was planning a reception for a couple of new artists that Friday, so things should really go well.” Felicia stood up from behind her desk and paced around her office. “This is going to be an excellent week. I can feel it in my bones.”
“Well, at least we won’t have to worry about anyone going hungry. I’m simply curious how you plan to turn Main Street into outdoor dining.”
“I can’t tell you all my secrets, can I? Look on the bright side. You’re saving a few steps when you take a break from work to grab some food for that week. Maybe we could get your fiancé to dress up as Patches Sinclair and provide some entertainment.”
Zachary smiled as he imagined his sweetheart dressed up as the life-sized teddy bear he came to embody. “I can ask Newell and see, but it probably depends on how busy he is at the feed store. That’s one of the few places in town that’s not dependent on tourist traffic, and probably a lot of folks are stocking up for the winter.”
There was a knock at Felicia’s door, and she opened it to let Vera Greenwood, Shawano County’s tourism director, waltz in with her artificially red hair and her latest Botox treatment that kept her face in a big smile.
“Good morning, Felicia. I just wanted to bounce some ideas off of you regarding the Dine Out event.” Vera turned to Zachary. “Oh, good morning, Zach. Can we count on your stellar photography skills for the week?”
Zachary smiled as he glanced at Felicia, sensing a setup. “I knew I was going to be needed for more than coupon books. Well, I will do what I can, if we don’t have a flood of people at the bookstore. I’m assuming that since you’re soliciting my services, you’ve also convinced Sigrid and the other restaurateurs of the amazing magnitude of this event.”
Vera chuckled. “We’ve convinced them of the amazing publicity and goodwill that will come from participating in the event, yes.”
“It should be interesting to see how this all turns out. Well, ladies, I should get back to selling books, but I’m definitely intrigued by this idea. You two have a wonderful day.”
Zachary walked out of Felicia’s office and stopped at a nearby drinking fountain for a sip of water. As he wiped his mouth for any stray moisture, he looked out the window for the village hall and saw Gresham’s main street shine in the autumn sunlight, with red and orange leaves casually falling off the trees. He paid particular attention to the street pavement and tried to imagine it with tables and chairs and a canopy covering it all. This was either something incredibly innovative or something that Gresham residents would look back on years from now and laugh. Zachary just wasn’t sure which.COLLAPSE