By Carlie Kollath Wells/NEMS Daily Journal
Editor’s note: This is the first in an 18-part series about Northeast Mississippi downtowns.
TUPELO – Downtown Tupelo is a slice of thriving Small Town America.
Customers sit on the patio of Cafe 212 to have a cup of coffee and chat with friends. A block down, contractors pick up their materials at Tupelo Hardware Co. On another block, community actors practice for their upcoming play at The Lyric Theatre.
Elsewhere, shoppers buy custom stationery, Mississippi-made art and jewelry, men’s suits, vintage comics, antique tea cups and quality cigars.
Plus, the area houses the headquarters for BancorpSouth and Renasant Bank, in addition to numerous churches, law firms, professional offices, apartments and the city’s farmers’ market.
It’s a far cry from a dying downtown. The charming stretch along Main Street swayed consultant Berkeley Young last year to encourage the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau to change the city’s branding to focus on the Americana experiences in Tupelo.
“‘Small Town America’ isn’t unique,” Young last year told the CVB board. “‘Elvis/Americana’ does make you different. You need to talk about the fact that your downtown has a department store and the mayor owns it. How many towns have a downtown department store any more?”
Downtown Tupelo already is capitalizing on its ties with Elvis. The streets are decorated with metal guitar sculptures modeled after Elvis Presley’s first guitar, which was bought at Tupelo Hardware.
And, downtown Tupelo is home to the annual Tupelo Elvis Festival in June. Elvis tribute artists perform in the Lyric and contemporary musicians perform on a stage in the Fairpark District, which was home to the fairgrounds where Elvis had his homecoming concert in 1956.
A project is under way to build bike lanes and sidewalks to connect downtown Tupelo to Elvis’ birthplace in east Tupelo.
The Fairpark District is the newest part of downtown, and it’s growing in popularity. It’s a city-led redevelopment project that converted an underutilized part of town into a desired venue for weddings, concerts, festivals and play dates.
During the summer, the dancing fountain and the playground are popular destinations for tourists and residents alike.
And, the larger-than-life Elvis statue, which was installed last year, has created a buzz in the Elvis community.
“We’ve got a great year ahead,” said Debbie Brangenberg, executive director of the Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association, to the group’s board this month.