By Dennis Seid & Carlie Kollath/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – The Mall at Barnes Crossing used to have a problem with runaway cattle causing a ruckus in the parking lot.
Luckily, one of the security guards almost 20 years ago was handy with a rope and was able to round up the bovines until the neighboring farmer could retrieve the escapees.
It’s a story that mall general manager Jeff Snyder tells with a chuckle, considering his neighbors now mainly are retailers, restaurants, banks and other businesses.
Last week, Snyder, who joined the mall in 1992, took some time to remember the mall’s past, as the 900,000 square foot building prepared to celebrate its 20th birthday. Snyder and others cut the cake Saturday in what used to be farmland but now is the center court of the mall, which is home to 100 stores.
During the past 20 years, Snyder said more than 80 million cars and 200 million people have been to the mall.
And people do more than visit. Snyder said the mall in 2009 averaged $395 of sales per square foot, up from $151 during the first year.
The figures are exactly what Harry Martin likes to hear. Martin is the president-emeritus of the Community Development Foundation and led the organization when it decided to recruit a regional mall.
In the late 1980s, Tupelo had two malls – the downtown mall that is now the BancorpSouth Arena and the Tupelo Mall, which now is Gloster Creek Village. But even with those two malls, the CDF’s research showed that Tupelo was missing out on millions of shopping dollars because residents were leaving town to shop.
Capturing local money
“You’d be surprised, when we did the study, to see how many people were going to Birmingham and Memphis to go to the big malls and shop,” Martin said. “We wanted to capture those sales and the tax dollars. We had to do that to stay competitive and to grow as the center of Northeast Mississippi.”
CDF commissioned studies, which recommended building a regional mall that would draw shoppers from across Northeast Mississippi. But the plans didn’t specifically call for the development in Tupelo.
According to Snyder, multiple towns around Tupelo wanted the retail project.
However, Tupelo was able to attract the attention of David Hocker and Associates. The retail developer visited the region and looked at multiple locations. The four in Tupelo included one on McCullough Boulevard and another on Highway 45-Alternate just north of Verona.
Asked why his company chose Tupelo, in particular the site in what was once called Ruff’s Bottom, named after the family that owned the land in the area, Hocker said the choice was “simple.”
“We looked at several other sites, we looked at the trade area, and our feeling was that Tupelo would be the dominant retail market in the region,” Hocker said.
“People thought we were crazy.”
Martin also remembers many skeptical people in Tupelo 20 years ago.
“The feasibility report for a regional mall and its success was much greater than most people in the town thought was reasonable,” Martin said. “In my 44 years with CDF, I saw a lot of projects that members of the community thought wouldn’t be successful. … It’s been highly successful.”
Snyder, who lived in Tupelo at the time, remembers people saying that there was no way people would drive six miles from Crosstown to shop.
“So many people said it would never work,” Snyder said.
In the beginning
Despite the critics and doubters, Hocker’s group bought 170 acres. The land extended to the property that now houses the main mall, Toys R Us, Red Lobster, Pier 1, Waffle House, Baskin Robbins, Ryan’s, Old Navy and LifeWay.
Hocker said that Barnes Crossing Road, as well as North Gloster Street, were both two-laned roads when his company chose the site for the mall.
Snyder added that Barnes Crossing Road, the name inspiration for the mall, was a gravel road.
“We paid for a big part of the road improvements that were made,” Hocker said, noting that it was the first of several improvements the mall has made through the years. The most recent one has been a $13 million renovation and expansion plan that’s added national retailers like Dick’s Sporting Goods, Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Coldwater Creek, JoS. A. Bank and Ulta.
The mall opened in 1990 with Sears, Belk, Kmart, McRae’s and JCPenney as the anchor stores. Reed’s also was one of the original specialty stores, becoming the first merchant from Uptown – which is now downtown Tupelo – to open a store in the Barnes Crossing area.
According to Daily Journal coverage of the mall at the time, the mall had 43 specialty retailers signed to join the anchors at its opening on March 7, 1990.
Food court tenants included Corn Dog 7, Chick-fil-A, Sbarro and Elrod’s Hamburgers.
The mall mix changed over the years, with Snyder saying it was able to attract more national retailers as it proved it could draw shoppers. Chains such as Gap and Bath & Body Works came.
“Retail is constantly evolving, changing, and we’ve changed over the years, too,” Hocker said. “But I think we’ve been very successful. We’ve served the trade area exceptionally well. The mall has been very positive for our company.”
Recently, a new breed of more upscale stores have opened, such as Dick’s Sporting Goods and Ulta.
Snyder added that the company is in discussions with other tenants that have expressed interest in the mall once the economy turns around.
Added Hocker, “We’ll continue to improve the center and add the type of stores like we’ve had. It’s been a good partnership.”
And while Martin said he enjoys the tenants at the mall, his primary use for the space is recreational. He’s been an early morning walker at the mall ever since it opened, which has allowed him to keep tabs on its growth.
“I think it’s gone beyond most of our expectations,” Martin said.
Contact Carlie Kollath at (662) 678-1598 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact Dennis Seid at (662) 678-1578 or email@example.com.