By Patsy R. Brumfield
BOONEVILLE – New businesses and professional offices polka-dot downtown Booneville as local leaders seek ways to energize the city’s historic shopping area.
An old pool hall echoes with memories of a 1950s concert by future music icons Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash.
On scheduled evenings, Main Street’s former anchor, Booneville Hardware, vibrates with life and activities.
“Downtown holds a lot of potential,” said Trudy Featherston, who wears several pro-Booneville hats.
In this case, she’s director of the Main Street-Booneville Office operating out of the restored railroad depot at the bottom of West Church Street below the red-brick Prentiss County Courthouse.
“There’s always something going on downtown,” she said recently. “We’re trying to focus on getting more visitors there.”
Indeed, Downtown Booneville has a lot going on:
• Trendy loft apartments over retail stores.
• Busy offices for attorneys and banks.
• Music and cultural events throughout the year.
• Gray’s Department Store, the town’s oldest retailer.
Even a new ice cream store tempts taste buds as the weather warms.
Keith Smith, who runs the Advantix computer store, is the Downtown Booneville chairman.
He said the organization will continue to promote events, new businesses and improved exteriors.
“We’re not going to wait around,” Smith said. “We have plans to draw more attention to the area.”
A short walk around downtown reveals its charms and potential. Attractive, architecturally interesting buildings stand throughout – some occupied and some vacant.
Downtown apartments, with the potential for downtown customers, have grown to perhaps two dozen in the past few years, Smith said.
Featherston appreciates that locals sometimes use the vacant structures for storage but she admits she’d rather see them revived as coffee shops or tourism-focused enterprises.
She also looks to local leaders and busy volunteers for new ideas when it comes to high-traffic entertainment venues, especially for the thousands of students at Northeast Mississippi Community College just a few blocks north of downtown.
“I hear people say it all the time – what we need is a bowling alley or a movie theater,” Featherston said.
Activity will pick up later this spring when Downtown Booneville and the local genaolgical society host Hometown Heritage Day and then Fall Fest, from which funds can come to launch a beautification program.
Smith said historic tours of downtown will available during Hometown Heritage Day.
“I went on one in the past couple of years and really learned a lot about Booneville,” he said.
Later still there’s Boofestival with Halloween costumes and parades for children, then Christmas open houses and a lengthy Christmas parade.
Visitors also can enjoy bluegrass music, other entertainment and art classes, taking advantage of the spacious, vacant Booneville Hardware store.
Smith said he’s hoping for more restaurants and other opportunities for people to enjoy the downtown after its professional offices close at 5 p.m.
Featherston said she envisions temporary “pop-up stores” hosting short-term retail events in some of the vacant buildings.
She also wishes those building owners would offer the space for other special events.
“We just need to tap into the right approach,” Featherston offers. “What helps Downtown Booneville helps everybody.”