Main Street vs. the mall: Expert urges Tupelo retailers to cooperate

By Carlie Kollath/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Downtown Tupelo and The Mall at Barnes Crossing should be partners, not competitors, according to initial recommendations from a consultant.
Tripp Muldrow, of Arnett Muldrow amp& Associates in Greenville, S.C., said during a presentation last week that the two groups could increase their market share if they work together to promote Tupelo as the complete shopping package – the Barnes Crossing district with its national brands and downtown with its independent stores and restaurants.
“There’s rivalry and there really shouldn’t be,” Muldrow said. “It should be ‘we,’ not an ‘us or them.'”
Muldrow, who was hired by the Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association, said Tupelo is unusual because it has a mall and a downtown that are both alive.
“In other areas, you would have a dead zone,” he said. “Downtown would be dead and the mall would be alive or the new mall would be alive and the old mall would be dead. You have a good downtown, good mall and your old malls are backfilled with independent businesses.”
The findings are part of Muldrow’s initial observations and recommendations for the Main Street Association, which asked him to do a market assessment to see where downtown Tupelo is now and to give recommendations for where it could go.
Muldrow interviewed downtown leaders, shoppers, business owners and residents. He also did market research, such as tracking ZIP codes and license plates of shoppers.
In his Thursday presentation to Main Street and city leaders, he said about 60 percent of downtown shoppers were from Lee County. About half of the Lee County shoppers were from Tupelo ZIP codes, he said.
In the Barnes Crossing shopping district, where he included the mall, Kohl’s and Walmart, Muldrow said about 40 percent of the shoppers were from Lee County, based on license plates in the parking lots during the survey.
“This means Barnes Crossing is doing a lot of heavy lifting,” Muldrow said. “You are not the regional draw that Barnes Crossing is. That’s an opportunity because you have an engine drawing in people. They are already here. Get them to make the extra effort to drive the three miles to downtown.”
Muldrow suggested that downtown Tupelo review its marketing efforts.
“Reaching this market should be done through collaboration, not competition,” he said. “You can’t position yourself as a competitor or as an alternative to other shopping districts in town. You complement and match other shops in town.”
He also said Tupelo, especially downtown Tupelo, needs better signage, including directions. The signs should point visitors to high-interest destinations in Tupelo.
For example, signs could be placed downtown to direct visitors to Elvis Presley’s birthplace, The Mall at Barnes Crossing and the Tupelo Buffalo Park.
Signs in the Barnes Crossing district, he said, could direct people to destinations such as the BancorpSouth Arena, downtown and the birthplace.
“You want to get them here, get them parked and get them walking,” he said.
Contact Carlie Kollath at (662) 678-1598 or carlie.kollath@journalinc.com.

Downtown’s assets
– Great small/medium-size town to
raise a family.
– Accepting of new people.
– Good restaurants downtown.
– Large regional commercial attractor.
– Tupelo looks great.
– Toyota has really added optimism.
– There are real partnerships in town.
– Diversified economy.
– Longtime and new retailers.
– Bank headquarters.
– City helps and is proactive.
– Longtime cadre of visionary leaders.

Downtown’s challenges
– More difficult for young, single people
to live and socialize here.
– Does downtown capture the market
that the mall does?
– Unemployment is still hovering at
10 percent.
– Furniture industry has hit rock bottom.
– Shops don’t stay open late enough.
– Dangerous pedestrian environment.
– Building owners who won’t improve
buildings.
– Perception that downtown isn’t for
everyone.
– Rivalry between east and west Tupelo.