By Mickey Howley
January 20, 2010, Alexis Bullock, Megan Kingery, Peter Buchholz and I are driving to downtown Sardis. To eat pizza. Alexis and Megan have this idea that they are going to buy the old abandoned Jenkins gas station and make it into a pizza restaurant. Mind you the national economy is in the pits and the local one doesn’t look great. But the ladies are bullish on the Valley. Alexis and Megan want to look at the Tribecca pizza place in Sardis as a role model and talk to the owners Dutch and Becca.
January 4, 2015, late evening and my brother Tom is just arriving in the Valley. Tom is a fire chief in New Orleans with 23 years on the job. He and his crews first respond to everything. If you’re in a burning building or a bad car wreck or your heart has stopped, you want to see Tom and his big red truck. He’ll go wide open to delay that Pearly Gate trip for you. He’s pretty good about condensing a situation to its essence.
Years ago when the movie “Titanic” came out, I called him after he’d seen it to get an opinion. His response was “the boat sinks”. Early Monday morning (5th) Tom asks me what is the new news here. I give him a copy of the new beer regulations and he walks off. Two cups of coffee later he comes back, throws the regs at me and says, “sore losers’ revenge”. I said it’s not that simple. He just raises an eyebrow.
It is January 6, 2015 and Alexis Bullock Showah now owns for several years the old Jenkins gas station with her husband Justin. It’s been re-habilitated into the Crawdad Hole Restaurant. The pizza restaurant idea was dropped when another pizza place opened in town, but the desire to own a creative economy business did not. Megan goes on to co-found Yalo Studio. Alexis and Justin save the gas station from an abandoned state of neglected decay and turned it into a Food&Wine rated eatery and a regional destination. That Tuesday night Justin is in front of the board of aldermen and city attorney and mayor explaining point by point how the new beer regulations negatively affect Alexis’s and his livelihood. The room is packed to standing room only. In the 70 plus city meetings I’ve attended, I’ve never seen the room even close to that full. I look around the room, it is an interesting demographic. Bankers, musicians, college professors, business owners, young and old, new and natives; all having serious skin in Yalobusha and the Valley.
It is January 2015 in the Valley and not December 2007 and in that time there have been dramatic changes for the better. Changes for example like 73 new jobs downtown, 20 new businesses, major renovations on many buildings, 6 million of private dollars invested, and sales tax revenue solidly up. Positive results in anybody’s book. Look at the changes close to downtown; there are historic houses being fixed, neighborhoods coming back and people moving in. The biggest change is in attitude of what is possible here and that Water Valley is now the place to be and not a place to leave. And what Justin pointed out Tuesday night and got fist bump from Mayor Hart for saying, was that the city has been an A-Plus player in this re-vitalization.
It would be pretty easy to see the current discord with the new regulations, as my brother Tom saw it, coming from a delayed backlash against the beer election. He’s a bit more pessimistic than I am, maybe it is his job, and he sees every day human error causing needless pain. What I do see is that very few people take a regular part in the democratic process. It is great to have full room for meetings and people caring enough to come, but I’ll just say 9 out of 10 times no resident ever comes to the city meetings. Progress requires participation and understanding by all the shareholders. And everyone can exercise his or her voice in this.