Last Thursday morning while the deluge was inundating and immersing the running track and ballfields at Crawford Park, my trusty Chevy hydroplaned and splashed southbound out of deep Water Valley on down to Canton. I saw the city street guys in action as I was leaving. Wet was the word. South of Durant skies cleared, temps jumped up 15 degrees and it was a sunny day.
Somewhere a few miles north of Canton, across the Big Black River from Vaughn, is the Gray Conference Center. Pretty much smack dab in the middle of Mississippi and it is where for the last few years Mississippi Main Street directors like yours truly meet and have a “retreat.” It is more an informal meeting and series of roundtables where directors can discuss how things are going in small town downtowns across the state.
There are 50 towns in the statewide Main Street program and 30 of them were represented. Moss Point was back, their downtown effort being re-energized after a difficult start some four years ago. Baldwyn said they were doing fine (note: their size and situation is like Water Valley) and had just passed tax incentives for infill construction and commercial downtown renovation exceeding $25 thousand where the city tax assessment would freeze for seven years.
That’s an idea!
Pass Christian said they had five ribbon cutting coming up in the next month. Clinton Main Street is adding two staff members. Senatobia was up against a nonresident building owner who was letting a historic commercial building just fall apart. Saltillo just had something similar, where half of their small downtown was owned by a guy named Bob in Ohio and Bob did not seem to care at all about his buildings.
Water Valley was at a roundtable with Aberdeen, Byhalia, Saltillo, and Woodville. All these towns are not only small, but also have a tight operating budget. Woodville has killed their big festival (too much time, too little economic results) and is focusing on fixing buildings. Saltillo is on a roll since Ohio Bob sold his buildings to local people. Byhalia is picking up local owner retailers in their downtown, and Aberdeen is restoring their old train depot. There’s a gritty and determined collective resolve in these towns to keep what is there good and functional while making the future better.
Janet Brewer Pipkin died last week. When Main Street started the Farmers Market, Janet brought her designer soaps to sell. Her products were some of the first local, non-food items sold at the farmers market. She was one of three people who represented Water Valley when the Mississippi Develop-ment Authority opened up the summer Mississippi Market Place in Jackson.
Though she was retired, having been a career teacher, her handmade soaps proved that at any stage of life the entrepreneurial spirit can grab you and make a go of it. I, for one, know her soaps made me cleaner and better smelling than I deserved. Main Street people and the Farmers Market folks will miss her.