Baldwyn looks to continue downtown renewal

By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fourth in an 18-part series about Northeast Mississippi downtowns.

By DENNIS SEID
NEMS Daily Journal
BALDWYN – While Baldwyn is split by Lee and Prentiss counties, nothing separates the common belief that the historic downtown area is regaining momentum, getting back to how it should be.
Parking spaces are hard to find on weekends. Streets and stores are filled with shoppers. Old buildings are being restored left and right.
“We now officially have a parking problem,” said Lori Tucker, Baldwyn Main Street Chamber executive director. “Tax dollars are coming in. … it’s a good problem to have.”
Indeed, just a few years ago, the community, like so many others, was fighting its way through the recession.
On top of that, Baldwyn had to deal with the aftermath of the Stanford Financial collapse. The company’s former chief executive officer had owned several downtown buildings that were seized and/or closed.
But local investors came to the rescue, promising to restore a proud and historic area.
Indeed, new shops have opened, a community theater is under construction and new crosswalks have been installed. Seasonal banners hang from new lampposts downtown and landscaping has been added. The old metal fencing that was at the entrance of downtown has been replaced by a wooden sign proclaiming its historic district status.
That sense of renewal is what attracted Hayley Stone to open The Blond Pistol clothing boutique last August. The Baldwyn native had always wanted to open her own store, and there was no better place than her hometown.
“It’s gone better than I thought,” she said. “It’s been really busy.”
The same can be said for The Tin Roof, a gift shop that Laura McCreary opened 31⁄2 years ago.
“There’s such a sense of family and we try to help each other and work together,” McCreary said. “I love Baldwyn.”
Tucker said the shops, among others, are the reason for the parking problem. Shoppers are coming not only from Baldwyn, but also from surrounding communities like Guntown and Booneville.
“There’s not a big-box store, which doesn’t have what these locally owned businesses have,” Tucker said.
And it’s been Tucker who’s been leading the charge to apply for grants to help with the downtown improvements. Long an advocate of the community, her eyes sparkle when she talks about the future of downtown Baldwyn.
“It’s the heart and soul of a community,” she said, explaining why she works tirelessly to promote and support it. “And the future looks very bright.”
In addition to the new shops, there are old stalwarts like Houston’s Discount Pharmacy and All-Star Sporting Goods and Printing.
Tucker also is pushing the idea of downtown living, and two downtown apartments are available for rent. One is a studio apartment over Art 108, an art shop that offers afternoon classes. The other apartment is over The Tin Roof.
All that’s missing, really, is a place eat in the heart of downtown.
“We’re still looking for a restaurant, a niche we haven’t yet filled, but that’s our goal,” Tucker said.
Another goal is to place bronze markers on the historic buildings, giving a brief description and history of them.
Edwina Carpenter, the city’s historian, said 26 are needed. Carpenter also heads the Brice’s Crossroads National Battlefield and Interpretive Center that lies just five miles from downtown Baldwyn. Her and Tucker’s goal is to have more visitors take a walking tour of downtown.
“We’ve designated all our historic buildings so visitors can come from Brice’s Crossroads and see what we have,” she said. “We think they’ll appreciate the architecture and the character of downtown.”
dennis.seid@journalinc.com