By Ray Van Dusen/Monroe Journal
Editor’s Note: This is the 15th in an 18-part series about Northeast Mississippi downtowns.
ABERDEEN – September marks the 20th anniversary of the Aberdeen Main Street Association, but that speck of time is short compared to the decades Aberdeen Main Street itself and downtown as a whole have maintained a classic charm.
There are antebellum homes sprawling on side streets underneath canopies underneath oak trees a century old at the youngest.
The Elkin Theater still shows movies as it did in 1937. Lann Hardware still offers customers a little bit of everything like it did in 1879. The newest addition to downtown, Kimmel Bakery, was established to recreate and bear the namesake of a classic Aberdeen bakery that operated from 1894 until the late 1970s.
These three businesses and the dozens of homes dating back to the 1800s are timeless stories in themselves like the vibe downtown Aberdeen exerts.
“People are looking for their childhood and merchants here still do business the old fashioned way. People used to take things like having alterations done for granted until it was gone, but we still have that kind of service here,” said Aberdeen Main Street director Glen Houston, who at age 87, was recently recognized by the National Trust for Historic Preservation being an influential ‘octomanager.’
Every year close to the holidays, downtown merchants open their doors to shed some early Christmas cheer with live music, food and markdowns during the holiday open house in what Houston describes as one big party and a homecoming of sorts.
“The open house is like a grand appreciation day for long-standing and potential customers, but every day is like a homecoming in my shop. One lady asked me when I was going to retire and I told her I already had. When people come into my store, it feels more like a family reunion instead of work,” said Flora Outlaw, who owns Flora’s Collections, a clothing store keeping women in style since 1994.
In addition to the merchants, downtown’s pulse also takes the spirit of volunteers. The Aberdeen Garden Club fills planters twice a year with seasonal color to give another visual pop to compliment the architecture.
“Just taking a walk down the street makes the town look prosperous and it shows that people care,” said Aberdeen Garden Club member Kathy Seymour, who has also helped write grants for downtown preservation efforts.
In between the bottom of the hill where the fountain flows and where the median of Magnolia trees ends, antiques, clothing and dining choices flow right into city, county and federal government and onto churches, a school and a handful of antebellum homes through Aberdeen’s main drag. Murals on the sides of downtown buildings celebrate Aberdeen’s blues and agriculture heritage and other pieces of the past and present.
The homegrown nonprofit, Save Aberdeen Landmarks, checked the Kimmel building off of its list as an early on project, which yielded a salon, three upstairs apartments and a business parcel fitting for its tenant, Kimmel Bakery.
SAL also dedicated strong monetary and physical commitments to save the Phoenix Building on Main Street at the Mobile & Ohio Depot on the northern edge of downtown.
“I believe downtown is the heart of a town and the way a town is perceived. I get emails daily from people who come in for our auctions talking about how much they enjoy our Main Street,” said SAL chairman Dwight Stevens, who also brings in bidders from across the country with his business, Stevens Auction Company.
Stevens added the availability of loft-style apartments downtown provides life after all the businesses have shut down for the day.
As City Clerk Jackie Benson networks with fellow city leaders across the state, she always returns to Aberdeen with more compliments to share.
“As past president of the Mississippi Municipal Clerks Association, I’ve had so many people say we have the best Main Street program in the state. When you live here, you forget how downtown draws you to it,” Benson said.