By Mickey Howley
It was one of those late summer promises of fall mornings. Just one of those something different in the air mornings this time of year–five years ago. The kind of morning that leads to the day Estelle Faulkner once commented from her porch at Rowan Oak that there is something special about the light in August. The kind of day that means we have survived summer.
So on that not quite cool but a not warm morning, I was on Duncan Street early and saw Eddie Ray walking to work at Mechanics Bank. Eddie is not the most cheerful guy even on a good day, unless he is fishing, but that late August morning he looked especially perturbed. Like someone had run over his dog or did something unseemly to his cereal.
I shouted something across the street, my usual vapid greeting with a corollary that things could not be so dour so early. And Eddie said without breaking stride, “It’s bad and gonna get worse.”
Eddie was talking about the economy and he was right. Worse it did get. The news of Countrywide Financial and Bear Sterns failing was already out. Still to come were the huge failure of Lehman Brothers and the near wipeouts of AIG, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley. The Dow was dropping fast, but had not yet plummeted to a low of 6,550. The almost global near collapse of the financial markets was still to come. And when things go bad on Wall Street it is often Main Street that pays a price, too. But Water Valley seemed a bit different. The Valley had not boomed like Oxford. None of the rampant speculation here like there. On the other hand, when the big banks and markets tanked, Water Valley did not plunge either.
In Water Valley five years ago there were plenty of empty buildings. No art galleries, no coffee shop, no dance school, no dress shops, no seafood or BBQ or soups or sandwiches places. But there were plenty of solid businesses anchoring Main. You could send your kid to art classes or have your teeth fixed or eyes checked or workout in a gym. You could buy furniture or flowers or gifts or auto parts or lumber or hardware or drugs (legal). You could bank (see the above Eddie situation). Water Valley had businesses that many Mississippi towns our size don’t have.
Folks looked around and saw the world was not coming to an end. In the Valley things kept going on. And that gave many the confidence to try to do new things and fix old buildings, despite what the national sentiment seemed to be. They figured the community would support and appreciate the effort. And five years later it seems to be working.
Last month the Missis-sippi Development Author-ity gave a presentation at a development conference in Florida. Florida being one of those places where those speculative values fell and towns larger and small really suffered. And MDA used WV as an example of how a steady belief in oneself and the town and the future will fix the present. Nice.
Make a note to be downtown Thursday evening August 29 for the first downtown pep rally for this year’s Blue Devil football season.