By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal
BOONEVILLE – Jason Perry and Sean Koehn saw plenty of potential when they first saw the old Walmart building.
Abandoned a few years earlier by the nation’s largest retailer after it moved next door into a bigger, more modern facility, the old building was starting to look its age.
“It opened in 1991 or 1992,” said Perry. “But it was still in pretty good shape.”
Another developer bought the building, hoping to transform it into a retail center of sorts. Dirt Cheap store had moved in and Aaron’s rent-to-own store was in the works when Perry and Koehn were offered a chance to buy it.
They jumped at the opportunity.
Now, on the cusp of the busy holiday selling season, the old Walmart – now known as Second Street Plaza – has five new stores filling the bulk of the space.
The retailers include Factory Connection, Hibbett Sports, Goody’s, Aaron’s and Dirt Cheap.
Perry and Koehn closed on the property in February and went to work securing the other retailers soon after. The business partners are familiar with renovating old properties: They have two retail centers in Starkville.
But Second Street Plaza is a little more special for Perry.
“I grew up in Rienzi, just down the road,” he said. “So I’ve been able to spend a lot more time with my family than I have in a long time, and it’s been really refreshing.”
Second Street Plaza is ideally located, Perry said. It’s adjacent to the Walmart Supercenter, another retail center, a new CVS and Northeast Mississippi Community College.
“We’re on the main drag – you really couldn’t ask for a better spot,” he said. “And the response has been really great. We’ve been really busy.”
On Wednesday, the parking lot was packed with cars and shoppers, which Perry said was a good sign.
“It looks a lot like holiday traffic,” he said.
The 72,000-square-foot center is all but filled. About 19,000 square feet of retail space is available.
“We could have subdivide it, but we prefer to have one retailer take it,” he said.
When that happens, Perry said he’ll be able to complete exterior renovations to the property.
There’s also about 8,000 square feet of storage or distribution space available in the back of the building.
All the store fronts, save Dirt Cheap and the available adjacent space, have new stucco facades. Once the larger space is taken, the entire plaza will have a uniform look.
“We really can’t do anything until we know what that tenant might want,” Perry said. “We think it might be perfect for a hardware store, like a small Lowe’s or something. It would round out the mix very well.”
Having renovated and all but filled an old Walmart would be deemed a success by many. Abandoned Walmarts have been a source of controversy for community leaders across the country. When the retailer builds bigger supercenters, the old stores often become eyesores. Finding another use for them becomes a priority. In ideal situations, developers like Perry and Koehn come to the rescue.
While Perry doesn’t see himself as some sort of hero, he does think Second Street Plaza is an economic engine of its own, with nearly 100 people employed among its five tenants.
“Plus, when there was nobody here, it wasn’t adding anything to the tax rolls,” he said. “Now we have tax dollars flowing again, which helps the city and the schools.”
Two additional 1-acre lots also are available, adjacent to the plaza’s parking lot. Those could be home to other retailers or restaurants, Perry envisions.
“Despite the economy, our cash flow is good on the Starkville properties and things are going well here in Booneville,” he said.
“What we wanted to do with Second Street Plaza is help keep Booneville shoppers here, where they don’t have to go to Corinth or Tupelo to do their shopping. The more dollars we keep here, the better.”