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Retail centers need our attention, quickly

Over the years, the city of Vicksburg has put a heavy focus on the development of downtown and the riverfront. Currently, plans are being developed for an expansive riverfront redevelopment, and vacancies downtown are considerably lower than in years past.

Thursday’s Fourth of July festivities were another example of how the soul of Vicksburg has once again shifted downtown. Retail development in the area continues to expand and those looking to live downtown are finding places to do so.

With the growth of the residential and retail experience, downtown Vicksburg has created in itself almost a self-sustaining economy and community.

This did not happen overnight, nor by itself. The growth of downtown was a focus of city administrations who understood that a viable downtown is crucial to maintaining and growing a city. Those communities where downtowns have been left to dry up and blow away have found themselves in trouble and at times unable to breathe new life into their town centers.

While downtown Vicksburg is thriving, there are two other retail centers in Vicksburg that are struggling.

The Vicksburg Mall and the Outlets of Vicksburg are retail locations that have had little to celebrate in recent years as stores have come and gone, and businesses found little success.

The Outlets have seen one closure after another with few successes in finding replacements to those leaving. There is a hope that when the South Frontage Road expansion project is completed that the area will have a rebirth, but it is the concern of many that such a project might not come in time.

As for the mall, it has fallen victim, like other large retail centers, to a trend where businesses who have brick and mortar locations are moving more of their business online, or centering them in larger metropolitan areas.

Anchor stores such as Belk, Dillard’s and Hobby Lobby continue to be draws, but those crowding the concourses in between stores are nowhere near as numerous or prosperous as they once were.

The B&B Theater location and the Fun Lanes bowling area have been great additions to the quality of life experience in Vicksburg, but the mall needs people and foot traffic for their retail partners to thrive, and the mall needs retail partners to draw more people. It’s a tough chicken or the egg scenario many malls in our country are facing.

It is our hope city and community leaders will look at these retail centers in much the same way they did with downtown many years ago.

As a city, we cannot afford to have these large buildings and complexes simply waste away, leaving behind empty buildings that will be even more difficult to bring back to life.

Downtown thrived because its success was important to Vicksburg. We would argue the health and viability of the Outlets and the mall is also important and in need of immediate attention.