CUYAHOGA FALLS: Aubrie and Brian Straka strolled Front Street with their toddlers, Sebastian and Cecilia.

Past the playground, the beach, the ice cream stand and the hot dog cart.

Past the florist and the news stand and the cafe tables outside a taco cantina.

Past the open air market with vendors displaying their colorful wares, and the street musicians whose voices bounced between the historic downtown buildings.

This world didn’t exist the day before.

It won’t exist tomorrow.

But for a 22-hour period, Cuyahoga Falls residents were given a glimpse of what the Riverfront Pedestrian Mall could be with some new investment.

Falls Better Block, taking place on Front Street north of Portage Trail through 3 p.m. Saturday, is a local version of a national program that helps underused business districts envision a better future.

A year in the making, the event was organized by hometown friends Samantha Coldwell and Getta Kutuchief and a 150-volunteer army that collected more than $20,000 in grants and donations, the blessing of city officials and the support of local merchants.

On one end of the “better block,” a vacant storefront was turned into a temporary home for Crave Cantina, a new restaurant that will be opening one block away next spring. Colorful lettering on the windows and sidewalk cafe tables with umbrellas gave the appearance that Crave was already a popular new addition to the neighborhood.

Inside, owner Aaron Hervey dished out chorizo, hickory smoked and spicy maple syrup tacos from warming trays while talking about how he looked forward to being a part of the Falls community.

He spent two years “looking for the right space and the right concept” before settling on a Front Street address. This weekend, he had the chance to introduce himself to residents, giving them “a small sample of the globally inspired tacos we’re going to do.”

The Strakas said they hope to see more of that. The couple said they only visit the riverfront mall a couple of times a year, for a festival or perhaps to let the kids play in the fountain. Otherwise the “odd assortment” of retailers and a lack of night life and weekend store hours does little to draw them back more often.

“We’ve already talked about how there is so much potential down here,” he said. More restaurants, bars, a theater, live entertainment — those are the kinds of things that would make them regulars, he said.

Aubrie Straka said she wonders if the city’s plans to open the mall to two-way traffic in the next couple of years will really improve the corridor, but is hopeful that the feeling she got from the Better Block can become reality.

“We don’t really have a place like this right now,” she said.

On the brick walkway, a pink chalk arrow pointed the way to “MARKET,” and stone steps led shoppers to a small lawn tucked between three-story buildings where vendors hawked speciality food, apparel and chachkies under tents.

Nearby, youngsters played in a temporary “park” featuring small playground equipment, cornhole and a tic-tac-toe beanbag game. At the end of the block, another group of munchkins crawled through the sand of a makeshift beach.

To complete the streetscape, students in the masters program at Kent State University’s College of Architecture and Environmental Design designed and built some faux storefronts, dining tables and chairs, sandwich boards and decorative fencing to spruce up the otherwise-barren stretch belonging to the city parking garage.

Making home of the temporary shelters were Akron Coffee Roaster Coffee Shop, The Saavy Garden, Falls News Press and Burning River Adventures.

For Ethan Rothermel, 24, and Christian Ford, 23, the eight-week project was their last hurrah before graduating this month.

“It was incredible working with Better Block and getting to do something that wasn’t just theoretical,” Rothermel said just after putting the finishing touches on their creations in time for the Friday afternoon crowd to arrive.

Paula Schleis can be reached at 330-996-3741 or pschleis@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/paulaschleis.