Marcus Bottom’s black-and-white KFC closes|[6/03/05]

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 3, 2005

A fast-food restaurant “famous” for the fact black men and white men have gathered there for breakfast and conversation for nearly a generation closed as a KFC franchise Thursday.

The restaurant in Marcus Bottom was one of three in the city owned by Bobby Hannon of Vicksburg, who said he plans to move the store’s equipment to a new one he plans to open in Louisiana.

“Two seemed to be adequate enough to take care of the Vicksburg community,” Hannon said of the decision to close the location he built as one of the first modern structures in one of Vicksburg’s best-known neighborhoods.

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The last day of business at 2600 Halls Ferry Road was Tuesday. The other Vicksburg KFCs are at 2915 Clay St. and 3144 Indiana Ave.

In the mid- to late-1980s, not long after the Marcus Bottom location opened under the Kentucky Fried Chicken name, it became a regular daily breakfast meeting place between about 7 and 8 for about 25 to 30 men, said neighborhood resident and Vicksburg Housing Authority director and former school superintendent Jim Stirgus Sr. There were no dues, no officers, no agenda and no membership lists. The largest crowds would gather on Saturdays, Stirgus said. Conversations would often be raucous, often political and always candid.

“If you’ve got a thin skin, you don’t come to breakfast,” said Charles Toney who described himself as the senior member. With the Marcus Bottom closing, the conversations will continue. Meetings have moved to the KFC on Clay.

The first sessions may have begun around the time discussions were being held over the prospect of consolidation of city and county schools. The two systems were united in 1987. Meetings on other topics of mutual interest, such as cleaning up the community, had also been held there, Stirgus added.

“It was just a central place in the middle of Marcus Bottom that many people accepted,” Stirgus said. The neighborhood, generally between Confederate Avenue and Drummond Street, Division Street and Harris, has historically been an enclave of black residential and social life.

Although home to churches and middle-class families, there was a period when public drunkenness and narcotics trade became common. That started declining about the time the KFC was built.

“There were times it would be something unheard of, a group of black men and white men meeting, usually on a daily basis,” Stirgus said. “But down here we never paid any account to it.”

Toney said the group meets every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“We discuss the problems of the world, the problems of the city, fishing, football and baseball,” Toney said.

About three to eight men, including about four or five regulars, attend the group’s meetings these days, Toney said. Sessions transcend time. About 12 regulars have died in the past five to 10 years, he added. And today’s breakfast club is an outgrowth of earlier locations, including Mr. C’s on Washington Street and, in the 1970s, a restaurant Toney himself owned, called Toney’s, in Battlefield Village mall, Toney said.

The KFC building is for sale and has been on the market for about six months, said Bob Gordon of Varner Real Estate. It has been the only fast-food franchise in Marcus Bottom and the tables and seats for customers would likely be included in the sale, Gordon added.

The stretch of Halls Ferry Road that runs by the building is one of the city’s most-traveled, with an average daily traffic count of about 11,000 vehicles, according to the most recently released Mississippi Department of Transportation numbers, from 2000.

Halls Ferry Road medians through the area were created last year, adding landscaping. The medians also reduced the width of lanes in some places from 40 feet to 15 feet and eliminated on-street parking in those lanes.

Asked what he would like to see replace the KFC operation in the building, Stirgus said, “Some type of eating facility would be my pick. It would be the ideal place for it.”

Gordon said he thought the location would also be a good place for a convenience store.

Hannon also owns two KFCs in Natchez and one in Tallulah.