Hundreds of American downtowns in cities of all sizes have gone through dramatic changes in the past 60 years, some losing their glory days and growth and retail sales as development spread outward. Some have never recovered from those transitions.
Others, like Tupelo, have acted to bring new strength to the heart of the community, not always with the same kinds of businesses, but enterprises that bring people and investment back to where it all started.
Tupelo’s downtown, as thoroughly documented in several books researched by local historians and filled with photos of buildings and businesses that have disappeared over time, has been a vital economic center for all of Tupelo’s 144-year history.
Many of the storefronts that used to be locally owned retailers have become entrances to professional offices, but recent new business in the 100 block of West Main Street add new retail strength and, soon, upper floor residences, characterized as luxury apartments.
The historic mainstays of downtown retailing – stores like Reed’s, Tupelo Hardware and MLM – remain and thrive. The new stores – FarmHouse, KOK restaurant, Swirlz and About the South – add strength and new customers to the downtown mix, which in the long term can become magnets for even more of the new retail and residences. The Caron Gallery, which has established itself, moved in late 2013 to a different location downtown on Main.
In Tupelo, more than $142 million in public and private money has been invested downtown since 1991. Last year, nearly $2 million was invested.
Tupelo has taken many of the necessary steps for long-term downtown regrowth with a plan and financing in place for a reconfigured Main Street linking to the Elvis Presley birthplace in east Tupelo, the city’s leading tourist attraction.
Fully establishing downtown as the region’s hands-down preferred destination for entertainment, specialty dining and other attractions is a work in process, but progress is substantial.
An announcement earlier this month that actor and acclaimed humorist Bill Cosby will return to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Tupelo’s coliseum, BancorpSouth Arena, provides perspective on the meaning of long-term redevelopment.
Tupelo is becoming an example of what can be achieved with a plan and a civic will to succeed in re-energizing downtowns.