MERCED -- Maira Romero stood in Bob Hart Square with husband Frank and 3-year-old daughter Sevena, listening to live music, glad to see entertainment in Merced.
"When we're with friends, we're like, 'What are we going to do in Merced? Let's go to Modesto. Let's go to Fresno,' " the 27-year-old said with a laugh, adding she's happy to be able to stay in town and hear music.
Third Thursdays on the Square kicked off on, well, Thursday with live music by Kowhoon and the Ramblin' Rowdies.
Frank Romero, 30, said he's downtown for events often, and he's pleased to see one that draws others to Main Street.
Karen Baker, a development associate for Merced's Office of Economic Development, said Third Thursdays is a redesigned version of Market on Main.
"Our downtown merchants were not wanting us to close the street so often," Baker said. "So, we decided to change the format."
Third Thursdays takes place in Bob Hart Square, leaving the streets open to traffic.
A live band is planned for each night, Baker said.
"(People) will be able to sit out and have dinner at our restaurants that have outdoor seating and hear the music," she said.
Booths on Thursday sold snow cones, kettle corn and barbecue. Baker said revelers are encouraged to visit downtown eateries and shops too.
A local artist set up a work on plywood and invited passers-by to add to the art.
Costs for the event were covered by Merced's downtown fund, which pays for marketing, cleanliness, security and events such as Third Thursdays, Baker said.
Also enjoying the live music Thursday was Lheng Abresinos, 28, of Merced. She was a little disappointed not to find a farmers market, she said, but was pleasantly surprised by music and art for her 4- and 9-year-old.
"It's something to do, so it's exciting," Abresinos said. "It's better than just staying home."
Third Thursdays are scheduled through October. The bands will play two-hour shows beginning at 7 p.m.
Reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.