Downtown Vicksburg: Tourism, hard work called vital to success

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 18, 2001

Kathryn Resio sweeps the floor of a window display at the Cinnamon Tree Wednesday . Resio has worked for the downtown business for four years and says being downtown is what you make of it. (The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[01/18/01] A year ago, as a crowd jammed into Duff’s Tavern & Grille to hear business leaders bubble about the future of downtown, Andrea Newman was an entrepreneur filled with energy and excitement about the area’s promise.

A few months before Christmas, Newman closed the doors of her downtown gift store, Good Stuff, and opened up shop inside a nail salon on Mission 66.

Newman, who started her shop three years ago when she retired from teaching, said she loved the quaint old buildings and friendly atmosphere of historic downtown Vicksburg. But in the end, the dollars just weren’t there.

“I was sick to leave,” she said. “I was very disappointed that I was not getting the business.”

There are success stories downtown, too, with some new businesses taking root and longstanding firms operating solidly. But, Newman said, it’s an uphill struggle.

“I heard a lot of comments from people who said, I just never go to town,'” Newman said. “Here, I’m inside an existing business. I have more visibility, more traffic and more steady customers.”

This time last year, more than 20 new downtown businesses had just opened. Several of those have since closed. Nine new stores opened in 2000, while 16 shut their doors.

Neal Brun, who recently bought The Ground Floor coffee shop, lamented that people drive 45 minutes to Jackson to shop but complain that downtown Vicksburg is inconvenient.

“I’m looking at the future since I bought this place,” Brun said. “Everything we sell is top quality the food is here. It’s up to Vicksburg whether I’m going to survive or not.”

Many business owners up and down the street echoed the same theme. Whether they sold clothes or shoes or home decorations, they said their main customers were their regulars their local customers.

“If I can’t get my locals to support me, the tourists aren’t going to do it,” said Autumn Reid, owner of The Herbal Sage vitamin and gift store.

Wednesday, downtown business owners once again crowded into Duff’s Tavern & Grille for the Main Street Program’s annual meeting.

There was some good news to announce. Barbara Buford, of Buford’s Gifts, will be moving her store downtown to 1307 Washington St., George Mayer plans to open a downtown art gallery, and Dr. Charles Marascalco has plans for an art, antiques and accessories shop.

But the fiery enthusiasm of last year’s gathering was mostly absent. David Bell, a banker, took the gavel of Main Street from Harry Sharp with little fanfare.

Rosalie Theobald, Main Street director, offered a status report on several of the downtown projects that were announced or already in the works 12 months ago.

Antique-style downtown street lights will be installed sometime this year, she said. City officials have said that project can move forward soon, but it will be disruptive because it involves digging trenches down the length of downtown on either side of Washington Street.

Nine businesses have taken advantage of $1,000 facade grants given by Main Street to improve the outside appearance of their buildings, and false building fronts designed to blend with the downtown architecture are being readied to cover the entrances to the tunnels leading to the Harrah’s Casino parking garage, she said.

A downtown directory, with information about each building and a picture, has been prepared to help sell the buildings.

Jimmy Heidel and Margaret Gilmer both took the opportunity to talk about the benefits of joining forces with other parts of Vicksburg the Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Development Foundation, the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau to improve all of Vicksburg, not just one segment.

Heidel, the executive director of the Chamber, EDF and the Port Commission, said he has been dismayed to see visiting potential investors find Vicksburg a city with a dozen different visions, instead of one cohesive vision.

Heidel discussed the possibility of luring Amtrak passenger train service into the city and developing the riverfront into a major tourist attraction.

But without a common vision, he said, Vicksburg will remain “a wonderful community to live in, with some wonderful ideas about what needs to happen, but not accomplishing a whole lot.”