Most cities in North Mississippi are edging ahead in retail sales as indicated by the sales tax collections that are diverted back to the cities from the Mississippi State Tax Commission.
Cities get 18.5% of the sales tax collected within city limits. For fiscal 2002, most cities have broken through the post Sept. 11 downturn to show a gain for the year.
Southaven, a suburb of Memphis, has seen one of the more dramatic increases in sales tax revenue going from $460,000 in March 2001 to $539,000 in March 2002. Fiscal year through March 2002 figures for Southaven are about $5.1 million compared to about $4.4 million for the same time period in fiscal 2001.
Southaven is located in DeSoto County, one of the fastest growing counties in the state. Southaven has seen a number of new stores open in the previous year.
“We have new retail development, but also our population keeps increasing because of people moving to Southaven,” said Chris Wilson, city administrator for Southaven. “The growing population in all of DeSoto County is leading to increased sales taxes. We have a lower sales tax rate than Memphis, and that also attracts shoppers, especially from Shelby County, Tenn.”
Southaven is also home to the country’s largest youth baseball complex with 17 fields. During the summer there is not a weekend that goes by without a regional or national tournament in town. Some tournaments bring hundreds of team members and their families, and resulting spending on hotels and meals gives a boost to the local economy.
In nearby Tunica, retail activity has also been growing, says Lyn Arnold, executive director, Tunica Chamber of Commerce.
“Retail activity is getting stronger here,” Arnold said. “We are seeing more in sales from two different sources. There are so many more people traveling through the county that convenience stores and gas stations are seeing an upswing. Then we are also seeing many more tourists venturing out into the downtown area, and that is also increasing sales for local merchants.”
Tunica fiscal 2002 sales tax rebates through March were about $38,700 compared to $38,900 for the same time period in fiscal 2001. For the fiscal year through March in 2002 totals were about $349,700 compared to about $331,000 in fiscal 2001.
Oxford holding steady
Oxford has seen modest increases in sales.
“Ours is running about the same as last year, or maybe a little ahead,” said Oxford City Clerk Virginia Chrestman. “We budgeted for the same amount this year as last year because we didn’t meet last year’s projections. It’s hard to estimate what sales tax revenues will be.”
Oxford sales tax rebates in March of 2002 were about $291,000 compared to about $289,800 in March of 2001. For the fiscal year to date from July through March, 2002, Oxford’s sales tax rebates total $2,758,000 compared to $2,679,000 in 2001.
Will Lewis, owner of Neilson’s, a 161-year-old specialty clothing store on the square in Oxford, reported that sales are on the upswing.
“Sales are up, I’m proud to say,” Lewis said. “We have been up every month this year except January, which is a sale’s month. So I’m very pleased with that trend. We were up in 2001, and have been up each month of 2002 except January.”
Despite declines in the furniture industry during 2001, Tupelo is also seeing some rebound in sales tax collections.
“We are seeing more materials being purchased for housing with the warmer weather here,” said David Rumbarger, president of Community Development Foundation for Tupelo and Lee County. “Our sales tax collections are even or just a little bit ahead. We are hoping that trend continues and that we catch up with or surpass last year although last year wasn’t anything to brag about.”
In Tupelo March 2002 the sales tax rebate was about $1,140,000 compared to $1,130,000 in March of 2001. For fiscal 2002 through March the total was about $10.7 million compared to $10.6 million for fiscal 2001 for the same time period.
Rumbarger said Tupelo has seen a total increase of 500 jobs in the area since January, which is expected to result in more cash registers ringing. And manufacturing employment has held steady at 18,800 since January.
“The furniture industry has rebounded significantly over the past six to eight months,” Rumbarger said. “Companies like Lane and Ashley have put people back to work and are working at full production.”
Jeff Snyder, general manager of The Mall at Barnes Crossing Mall, said he is getting some encouraging reports from merchants in most categories.
“Easter being in March this year has made April look soft,” Snyder said. “Most retailers are optimistic about the economy and feel we are entering recovery. We are tracking about 2% above last year’s sales mall wide.”
Last year mall sales were up 3%. The mall is about 98% occupied, and recently began a $750,000 parking area overlay project.
A first phase of a new shopping center, Tupelo Commons, is going up nearby. A Wendy’s is being added and a 10-screen Malco Theater is under construction.
Corinth sales up
In Corinth sales taxes collected in fiscal 2002 through March were about $3,345,000 compared to $3,247,000 for fiscal 2001.
“Our sales are up. Our tourism tax is up,” said Emy Wilkinson, director of the Corinth Area Tourism Promotion Council. “With what we had projected our budget to be this year, it appears we are on target with tax collections. I’m hoping I underestimated it and it will be even higher than last year.”
There is a 2% lodging and prepared food tax within the city limits of Corinth. The tourism tax brought in $51,000 in March 2002, almost $5,000 more than March 2001 representing an increase of about 10%. Overall for the fiscal year the tourism tax is up 4% from the previous year. Wilkinson said the opening of the $9-million Civil War Interpretive Center that is being constructed by the National Park Service will do even more to draw tourists to the Corinth area.
Charles Gulotta, president of The Alliance in Corinth, said even before opening the anticipation of the new interpretive center is drawing tourists to the area.
“This Civil War center that will be under construction before the end of the year has peaked a lot interest from tourists and the local community,” Gulotta said. “We are also seeing some new restaurant development. There is a Ryan’s Steakhouse under construction, and we have a brand new Ruby Tuesday’s restaurant that is doing exceptionally well. We have also had a flurry of redevelopment in the downtown commercial district.”
Things are not quite as encouraging in small Holly Springs, population 7,000.
“Sales are down overall,” said Holly Springs City Clerk Sandra Young. “It hurts the city, definitely. I’m not really sure why. People are just spending less.”
Holly Springs Chamber of Commerce executive director Susan Jordan agreed that things are on a downswing but said merchants aren’t overly concerned.
“I’m not hearing any reports that they feel like it is real serious at the moment,” Jordan said.
Holly Springs’ fiscal 2002 revenues through March from sales tax rebates are about $749,000 compared to $761,600 for fiscal 2001. However, March 2002 figures were encouraging with rebates of about $84,000 compared to rebates of about $77,000 in March 2001.
Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com or (228) 872-3457.