Smithville businesses come back, slowly but surely

By Carlie Kollath/NEMS Daily Journal



Click here to view our Smithville Tornado Photo Gallery – Over 300 photos of Smithville, Mississippi after last year’s EF-5 tornado.


The April storm wiped out the majority of Smithville’s businesses.
A year later, some are doing business in new locations in Smithville, some have relocated to other towns and some have decided to close for good.
“It’s a new Smithville,” said Ann Goodwin, an employee at Access Family Dental. “It’s not going to be the same.”
Every new building creates a little more hope in the community. Residents and business owners eagerly talk about the progress at Smithville Hardware and the new Mel’s location. They talk about the most recent ribbon-cuttings and speculate about who will be next.
“I’m really excited to see some nice, permanent structures that say, ‘I’m here to stay,” said Marilyn Sumerford, executive director of Access Family Health Services in Smithville. “Every time I see a new house or business, it gives me a good feeling. We’re coming back, slowly but surely.”

––––– CURRENT BUSINESSES ––––––

• Mel’s Diner – Was destroyed by the tornado and rebuilt on the same property, but farther back from the highway. The linoleum from the previous restaurant is still visible in the parking lot of the new location. The business reopened in November 2011. Employees who took shelter in the restaurant’s cooler still work at the business.

• Dollar General – “The store got totally blown to bits,” said assistant manager Rita Crocker. “The building fell on us. We dug our way out. Richard (store manager) held onto us. He saved my life. It was unreal.” The employees only had minor cuts and bruises, Crocker said. The remains of the building were cleared away and a new store was built on the foundation. It reopened in August 2011.

• Smithville Texaco and Village Post Office – Was destroyed and rebuilt. It opened in February with new owners – Butch Palmer, William Tanner and Vickie Palmer.
“I’d won the contract for the Post Office,” Butch Palmer said. “I thought, ‘What better place to put it than inside the Smithville Texaco?’”
The station also has a car wash and has a mechanic that does general auto repairs and maintenance.

• Pete’s Tasty Bar-B-Q – Owner Lamar Standifer started bringing his food trailer from Fulton in August 2011. He opens for lunch on the property that formerly housed Phil’s Place. He’s making plans for a permanent building.
“We’re definitely going to be here,” he said. “If not, we’re going to be real close, like across the street.”

• Renasant Bank – The bank’s vault was the only thing left standing after the tornado. Now the bank branch is operating out of a modular unit. After the bank was robbed in January, it was converted to a drive-though-only branch. The bank is waiting on highway plans before making any decisions about a permanent building, according to John Oxford, Renasant’s director of external affairs.

• Access Family Health Services – The roof to the dental clinic was damaged and closed the business for about two weeks, according to employee Ann Goodwin. The medical clinic was destroyed. It reopened in a mobile unit May 10, according to Marilyn Sumerford, executive director of Access Family Health Services.
In June, it upgraded to a modular unit that was set on the foundation of the destroyed clinic. The unit is twice the square footage of the original clinic.
The building also has storm shelters out back.
Smithville Baptist Church donated 3.8 acres to the clinic. The land is behind Renasant Bank and has paved parking.
Sumerford said the company has applied for grants to rebuild a permanent clinic at the new location. She hopes to hear about the grant outcome in the next few weeks.
“We’re going to rebuild whether we get it or not,” she said.
She hopes to have the clinic open in spring 2013.

• Smithville Hardware – Allen and Leigh Duncan are rebuilding their business on Highway 25. They’ve been operating out of a warehouse behind their original building, which was built in 1922.
They started making plans to rebuild the day after the tornado leveled their building.
“We hope we can be the start of another generation of people building and putting stuff back here,” Allen Duncan said. “We’re not putting this back for ourselves. We’re putting this back for the community.”
They broke ground in October and have been working with their insurance company to get the business back in a permanent building. Allen Duncan said he hopes to get the business open in the next month or so. And when it reopens, it will have a new name – Smithville Hardware and General Merchandise.

• Doughbelly’s – Phillip Lockheart’s pizzeria was blown away by the tornado.
“We got in the truck and outran the tornado,” he said. “There wasn’t nothing left.”
The business previously was next to Mel’s in a 700-square-foot space. The pizzeria has moved into a 2,500-square-foot building with more seating.
“We wanted to come back,” Lockheart said. “We wish the population was bigger.”
He said a lot of his business comes from Amory and Nettleton.
“We’re steadily growing and doing stuff,” he said.
The next project is installing a 1965 Mustang on the roof.
“It’s something different,” he said.
The restaurant is open for dinner Monday through Saturday.

• Coker’s Han-D-Mart – The service station was one of the only businesses left intact after the tornado. It did have a dangerous gas leak that shut down business for a while, though, said Ashli Coker. Now the station is back to what it was before. It sells biscuits in the morning, burgers for lunch and snacks the rest of the day. It also stocks emergency hardware supplies.

• Coker’s Furniture & Appliance, 63492 Highway 25 N
• CMP Storage Units – Self-contained storage units on Highway 25.
• Coin-operated car wash across the street from Mel’s
• Plantation Fish & Steakhouse, 60092 Pecan Road
• Brown’s Martial Arts – 63475 Hwy 25 N.
• Atkinson’s Steakhouse, 60489 Parham Store Road

––––– COMING SOON –––––––

• E.E. Pickle Funeral Home – A “future home” sign is posted in front of a dirt pad with an empty parking. The property is behind the cemetery. Pickle also is looking into property on Highway 25. The company hopes to break ground in the fall.

— FUTURE UNCLEAR —-
• Piggly Wiggly -– The grocery store in the center of town was pounded by the tornado. Now, it’s a cleared dirt pad with an empty parking lot. Caution tape still is stuck in some of the landscaping around the former business. Owner Joe McGonagill isn’t sure if he’ll rebuild his Smithville store.
“More or less, I’m waiting to see what comes back, he said. “We don’t have a timeline. I’m not going to sell the property.”
“I see some houses comes back, but it’s just very few and far between. You don’t want to give no false hope. You just got to speak the truth. I don’t see it with the number of people that are there. It just wouldn’t support itself right now.”
McGonagill said he sees many of his former Smithville customers at his Amory store. He also owns the Piggly Wiggly locations in Aberdeen and Nettleton.

• Townhouse Home Furnishings – Townhouse Drive currently deadends into an unpaved parking lot bordered by metal buildings. The tornado damaged three of the company’s four buildings, causing Townhouse to move its operations to Mantachie and Amory.
Tony Watson, vice president of administration for Townhouse, said the repairs are 99 percent complete and the company is evaluating its business and future in Smithville. He said Townhouse doesn’t have a timeline for moving back.
“It’s my feeling that we will, but I don’t know when,” he said.
The company previously had 120 employees in Smithville. It now has 125 in Mantachie and 115 in Amory.
Additionally, Watson said Townhouse has not used a $350,000 grant from Appalachian Regional Commission and another $265,800 grant from the state to expand its Smithville plant. He said the company is evaluating customer needs.

BUSINESSES NOT REOPENING

• Discount Air – Owner Tim Stephens lost his mother, his business and 90 percent of his inventory in the April storm.
Stephens said he was able to salvage his business after he found a ZIP drive with his customer information.
He had phone calls and faxes forwarded to his house and set up a temporary offices. Discount Air sells and services industrial air compressors for factories. He had one truck that survived the storm, and businesses from Alabama came to help him with customers.
“We lost maybe two accounts that couldn’t wait, but everybody else was really good,” he said.
About a month after the storm, he found a building in Verona for sale.
“I bought it for less than half of what it would cost to rebuild,” he said.
After 10 years in Smithville, Stephens moved his business to Verona in July 2011.
“We’re back up to 100 percent now,” he said.

• Rental space, previously Commerce Grocery and Piggly Wiggly – The former commercial space at 63424 Highway 25 isn’t reopening. Owner Frank Comer has it listed for sale by owner.

• Phil’s Place – Restaurant was destroyed by the tornado. It was across the street from the gas station. The land has been sold to a new restaurant, Pete’s Tasty Bar-B-Q.

• Gaines Trace Inn – The antebellum home at 63473 Highway 25 was badly damaged by the tornado. It housed Judy Herring’s bed and breakfast.
Steve Stanford said his mother-in-law tried to sell the remains of the house to a group that wanted to turn it into a museum, but the deal didn’t work out.
“So she had it torn down,” he said.
People call Herring’s phone number all the time looking for rooms, but Stanford said the business is closed for good.