Tupelo bars get scrutiny

By Carlie Kollath/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Two bars have been the talk of downtown Tupelo since they opened last year.
Some of their neighbors consider them a nuisance that’s not good for downtown, but the owners and managers say they’ve done nothing wrong, and they aren’t being given a chance.
Atlanta Bar & Grill, located at the northwest corner of Main and Spring streets, used to be a lunch venue but now opens at 4 p.m. for dinner and entertainment.
The bar caused a stir downtown when a brawl broke out on New Year’s Eve, and Mississippi State University football player Chad Bumphis was arrested and charged with public drunkenness and disorderly conduct. He was involved in a “big group fight,” according to police, and has pleaded not guilty.
One block east, Level 3 sits vacant after a Jan. 20 fire and may not reopen, according to one of the owners. The fire put an end to the club’s promotions that advertised “parties of the year” and girls dancing on the bar. At one point, the bar was called Coyote Bar & Grille, and the posters referenced the Coyote Ugly chain of bars.
The two venues have generated a multitude of complaints from business owners and downtown residents, according to Debbie Brangenberg, executive director of the Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association.
“It’s the most complaints that I’ve had” in 10 years, she said.
The complaints, she said, concern litter, cigarette butts, bottles on the street, loud music and groups of intimidating people loitering on the sidewalk.
“I have personally been to talk with the business owners and employees,” Brangenberg said. But, she said, the complaints haven’t stopped, so she sent multiple letters but did not get a response.
“It’s not good for people in business who have invested their money if they don’t have good business neighbors who care,” she said. “We want good citizens.”
Atlanta’s owner and manager both said Thursday they haven’t received any letters. They also said they have added a cigarette receptacle in front of the business.
Several nearby business owners, who were interviewed by the Daily Journal but declined to comment on the record, expressed concern about rumored activities inside the two businesses.
Reese Senter, the bar manager at Atlanta since October, shook his head in disbelief at some of the rumors.
“Afterparties? No such thing,” he said. “The only reason we would stay open past 12 is if the band is taking their stuff out, and we’re cleaning up.”
He acknowledged the New Year’s Eve fight, but said the main part of the fight was on the sidewalk.
“To my knowledge, that little altercation is the absolute only thing that’s ever happened here,” he said. “It could have happened anywhere.”
And current business licenses, liquor licenses and beer permits are on display at both businesses. The permits and licenses have been issued to Maurice Clark, who is part-owner of Atlanta Bar & Grill and Level 3.
As for other rumors, Clark dismissed them Thursday. He said the front of the business is plate glass, with everything going on inside easily viewed from Main Street. He also added the bar isn’t sturdy enough to support anyone on it.
“We’re doing nothing wrong, nothing illegal,” he said. “Maybe because we’re black, they want to pick on us.”
Added Senter, “It’s very, very tough when you don’t have the support of downtown. We invite people downtown to come and see us, even those who have complained about us. … Don’t believe any rumors that you hear about anything.”
“People want entertainment and that’s what we’re providing,” he added. “This is not a strip club. This is not a nightclub. This is an entertainment venue. People come here to eat and to hear good, local music.”
Tupelo Police Chief Tony Carleton said his department hasn’t had problems with Atlanta Bar & Grill or Level 3 beyond the New Year’s Eve incident.
“Nothing that stands out,” he said. “I’ve heard of afterparties, but nothing’s been substantiated. We haven’t caught them breaking the law.”
THE OWNERS
When Atlanta Bar & Grill opened in July 2011, Clark worked with Rodney Shumpert. Clark is an optometrist at 2020 Vision Center in Tupelo. Shumpert, in a May interview with the Daily Journal, said he owned Atlanta Bar & Grill. However, Clark the next day said he owned the business, not Shumpert.
On Thursday, Clark said he and Shumpert are friends and business partners. They own Level 3 together, Clark said.
Shumpert is a club and event promoter in Northeast Mississippi. In a May 2011 interview with the Daily Journal, he said he was the owner of Club Icon on McCullough Boulevard. The club closed after a 2010 New Year’s Eve party, when a 20-year-old man was fatally shot multiple times at the club.
Shumpert also was fined for several code violations at the club and still is paying off the balance, according to Larry Montgomery of the Tupelo Municipal Court.
Shumpert has petitioned the city of Okolona to allow him to open a club called Chocolate City that he said will offer topless dancing, food and alcohol. The city has put a moratorium on nightclub and bar permits as it looks into its options.
But as of Sept. 23, Shumpert is no longer involved at Atlanta Bar & Grill, according to Ray Shoemaker, who co-owns the business now. Shoemaker, whose wife owns Smoothie King in Tupelo, said in an October interview that he approached Clark about buying into the business. Once he became a partner, he said Shumpert’s ties with the business were over.
Yet Shoemaker has his own baggage. He’s currently free on bond, after pleading not guilty to a multi-million-dollar medical fraud scheme in Batesville with two other men. The men are accused in a kickback and bribery scheme surrounding nursing services to Tri-Lakes Medical Center in Batesville, where Shoemaker was chief executive officer. All three have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial.
Patsy Brumfield, Brad Locke and Floyd Ingram contributed to this story.
carlie.kollath@journalinc.com