Central Square’s the place to be in Auburn

By: Krissi Khokhobashvili, Journal features editor
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On any given night, people walking around Downtown Auburn can find camaraderie, music and a sweet treat in Central Square.

The square, complete with seating areas and a covered fire pit, has become a hangout for young and old alike, who gather most evenings to enjoy the square. While Fridays and Saturdays are the most popular evenings, even weekdays have seen Auburnites converging on the square.

“It’s good to come down and interact with the community,” said Auburn resident Allen Cassidy, who comes to meet people, listen to music and even help out people who might be down on their luck.

Central Square was part of phase one of the Auburn Streetscape project, completed in February 2010. The first phase, which cost $2.2 million, included art pedestals, the seating area, plants and a living Christmas tree, as well as street improvements, sidewalk widening and undergrounding of utilities.

The city had redevelopment money to update its 100-year-old sewer laterals, electrical lines and water pipes, explained Dr. Bill Kirby, a member of the Auburn City Council.

“This is about 5 percent of cost, to make it this nice,” Kirby said as he served up free popcorn during a screening of the movie “Up” in Central Square. “We got a lot of grief about it, but it has just exploded in terms of utilization, and we’re really excited about that.”

Kirby’s popcorn cart is a staple at the summertime outside movie nights, presented by the Auburn Recreation District with help from an array of community members. This season’s free screenings ended with “Up”; they’ll start again next spring.

John Goldschneider of Auburn and Melissa Baker of Roseville were taking a stroll after having dinner when they saw a crowd of people in the square. They decided to stick around for the movie and enjoy the community atmosphere of the gathering place.

“I got back from college a few years ago and there was nothing down here,” Goldschneider said. “Then I got back and was looking for something to do … things have gotten a lot better down here as far as stuff happening.”

In addition to children playing and people chatting and enjoying free Wi-Fi, the square is also the site of several impromptu jam sessions. Musicians often bring guitars or other instruments to the square to make music together around the fire pit.

“They play a lot,” said Jason Brown, a regular at the square. “They have a jam session almost every other day.”

An ever-present sight in Central Square are white cups and orange spoons from Tango Frozen Yogurt, situated right on the corner.

Owner Lisa Swisley said Friday and Saturday are her busiest nights, especially when the weather is cooler and it’s more comfortable for people to sit around the fire and enjoy music and fro-yo.

“It has been great for my business,” she said, “but more importantly, it’s just great for Auburn. I get kind of emotional when I drive by and see people being out in Auburn where it never happened before. For me to be part of that is pretty cool.”

Reach Krissi Khokhobashvili at Follow her on Twitter, @AuburnJournalAE.