By Ginna Parsons
NEW ALBANY – While downtown New Albany houses the vital functions of a city – banks, churches, courthouse, police department – it is also known as a destination spot for shopping.
“We’ve got several retail clothing stores, gift shops, a jewelry store, antiques shops, restaurants, bakeries, boutiques, salons and a bookstore,” said Vickie Duke, manager of the New Albany Main Street Association.
According to reinvestment statistics in the Main Street District that Duke provided, between October 1996 and August 2012, New Albany netted 70 new businesses, saw the improvement of 46 buildings, and boasted 19 downtown loft apartments.
“Retail has actually doubled in the seven years that I’ve been here,” Duke said.
Upscale retailers such as Van Atkins Jewelers, T. Sappington & Company, Barbara Tyre, Something Special and Southern Traditions have long drawn customers from near and far, and boutiques like Bead Shack, Runway and Obsessions are attracting the younger crowd.
“Downtown has always been a vital part of New Albany,” she said.
For this city of about 8,900 residents, downtown means Bankhead Street, which is several blocks long. Main Street is actually one block over and also includes restaurants, antiques shops, gift shops and other retailers.
“We consider Bankhead and Main streets ‘downtown,’” Duke said, “but any event that the Main Street Association promotes includes businesses that are even five miles out.”
Downtown is also home to the Magnolia Civic Center, which was renovated about 13 years ago and now includes a banquet room for wedding receptions and parties, although plays are still performed there, she said.
Stroll down Bankhead and you’ll find very few empty window fronts.
“There are only a handful of buildings – not even that really – that are vacant and the ones that are largely need extensive revitalization,” Duke said. “There’s an old drug store that I would love to see someone come in and maybe do a restaurant.”
And if you can’t find a parking place on one side of the street or the other, just leave your car right in the middle of Bankhead.
“There’s a one-block area between a stop sign and a stoplight where people park in the middle of the street,” Duke said. “That’s one of the unique aspects of downtown. People love that when they visit. It freaks them out.”
Cooper Park is a small downtown green space that offers a fountain and, usually, park benches, but right now they’re in the process of being replaced. Located in the spot where Van Atkins was before it burned, Cooper Park plays host to Picnic in the Park, a Junior Auxiliary fundraiser, and several outdoor weddings.
Downtown also sees a lot of traffic from festivals and special events, such as Arts, Beats and Eats; In Bloom; Paint the Town; Upstairs, Downtown; and Hill Country Halloween and Chili Cookoff.
“We’re trying to do some different things to draw people out and downtown,” Duke said. “So far, we think we’ve been successful.”