GREENWOOD — While most retailers continue to move away from downtowns, Howard and Barbara Smith bucked the national trend.
Instead, they moved Smith & Co. Outfitters, an established outdoors store, to 211 Fulton Street, located in the heart of historic downtown Greenwood. The new store opened Aug. 1.
“We had looked downtown and thought there was a lot of potential,” said Howard Smith, owner. “We knew we’d have to restore a building to do what we wanted, but it seemed like a challenge worth undertaking.”
The Smiths were in good company. A resurgence in the downtown revitalization effort was sparked when Fred Carl Jr., president and CEO of Greenwood-based Viking Range Corp., purchased Hotel Irving and announced plans to turn it into a boutique hotel. It is scheduled to open next fall.
Beginning in 1995, Mae Whittington, former director of Greenwood’s Main Street program, was instrumental in getting the Keesler Bridge restored and other downtown improvements made to lay the groundwork for revitalization of the area. Greenwood businessman and city councilman Johnny Jennings and Dr. Todd Fincher, a local dentist, had also purchased and renovated several downtown buildings.
The Smiths purchased the three-story building, built circa 1920, from the Malouf family for an undisclosed sum last December. The building originally housed Whittington’s Dry Goods. In the 1970s, it housed Fisher Stationary, which sold office supplies and stationary. In the 1980s, it was used as home for a pottery operation, which included large ovens, gas lines and heavy equipment that presented a challenge when the Smiths decided to restore the building.
“The restoration project ran around $400,000, but it was a logical choice,” said Smith, who subcontracted most of the work. “On Park Avenue, where we were located, the purchase of land and building a new place would be cost prohibitive for our kind of business and other small town retail establishments. Our research showed a lot of market potential in downtown Greenwood.”
The Smiths moved to Greenwood from New Orleans in 1985, where they had owned and renovated an antebellum triangular-shaped building located in the middle of Magazine Street and an 1890s house nearby. Restoring the historic building in Greenwood — each floor measures approximately 4,500 square feet — was much easier, Smith said.
“It took us a while to get the groundwork done, such as approvals with the National Park Service and making the various applications for tax credits and loans, but the Main Street program was instrumental in helping facilitate this,” Smith said. “They did a great job of getting us through a maze of paperwork.”
Lisa Cookston, executive director of Greenwood’s Main Street program, said she was a liaison between the Smiths and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History for the 20% tax credits. Because they were members of the Main Street association, the Smiths qualified for low interest loans from a local bank. They also took advantage of a fa