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Retail, commercial development continues to grow in Clinton

Clinton — Retail and commercial development continues to grow, with new businesses, retail centers and partnerships coming together to continue Clinton’s recent progress in economic development.

Part of these efforts is the City of Clinton’s recent decision to join Main Street Mississippi, according to Mayor Rosemary Aultman. In July, city officials met with Main Street Mississippi to take advantage of their revitalization programs and develop a plan for Olde Towne Clinton, the U.S. 80 business corridor and the Clinton Boulevard area, said Aultman.

“They come into the community and give an objective plan on how things can be improved,” she said. “And then they provide us a roadmap in working on the recommendations.”

Wyatt Waters, watercolor artist and gallery owner in Olde Towne Clinton, said that the unique shopping district across from Mississippi College hopes that Main Street Mississippi’s recommendations lead to some zoning regulations designed to protect the area’s historical ambiance. New businesses are already moving into the area later this year, including an antique store in a renovated livery stable and a vintage bookshop, he said.

Toni Wall said the neighborhood is the perfect location for Pentimento Books, which she hopes to open on Jefferson Street in November.

“I love old-town, small-shopowner village life,” said Wall, who was manager and children’s book buyer for Lemuria Books in Jackson for the past five years. She noted that she has been involved in Olde Towne Clinton efforts ever since the area was developed 10 years ago.

Wall plans to offer trade paperbacks, hardbacks, old backlist titles, first-edition books, some modern fiction and other vintage texts, as well as children’s books. She’s careful to call her business a “bookshop,” indicating the kind of literary atmosphere she hopes to create in the store.

Wall envisions Pentimento Books as a place where readers can get together and discuss their passions for books in an atmosphere of good literature and literary camaraderie.

“I’ve gotten my best tips (for books) from other book lovers,” she said.

Waters believes that the anticipated opening of the completed Natchez Trace Parkway should bring visitors ready to appreciate the neighborhood, characterized by brick streets and quirky architecture. “If they’re traveling the Trace, they’re interested in shopping in a historical district. Otherwise, they’d be coming in on the interstate,” Waters said. “I want to make sure that when that road opens, we’ll be ready.”

Aultman also sees great possibilities ahead for Clinton businesses as a result of the road opening and the construction of the Natchez Trace Visitors Center, slated to open to travelers in May 2005.

In addition to the three million visitors who already travel the Natchez Trace annually, Aultman also hopes the impact can come from shoppers in the greater Jackson area as well.

“I think people are going to be surprised at how quickly you can go from the northern part of Jackson, Madison and Ridgeland to Clinton,” she said.

Improvement is also evident in other areas of the city, including the corner of U.S. 80 and Clinton Parkway, soon to be home to a remodeled shopping area anchored by a brand-new Winn-Dixie store opening in December. The site, the former home of Wal-Mart in Clinton, had been vacant for five years before being sold to Winn-Dixie, said Aultman.

Mike Peters, developer of the Clinton Parkway Center, said that the activity surrounding the Winn-Dixie development should benefit the entire Clinton Parkway area as well as Highway 80.

“I think it will be a shot in the arm for that corner,” he said.

Peters’ own development is in the midst of leasing Phase II of the Clinton Parkway Center, bringing the entire development to 40,000 square feet of retail and commercial space. Current tenants, including Margaritas Mexican Restaurant and the Cupboard, should soon be joined by a mix of new neighbors including possibly a Christian bookstore, an upscale dress shop and a cosmetics store, Peters said.

Some observers had questioned how Clinton could sustain their retail development in the wake of the WorldCom meltdown, which resulted in the move of the corporate headquarters to Virginia and the renaming of the company to MCI.

Aultman said the situation hadn’t affected Clinton nearly as much as the naysayers said it might. “We now have more employees in the WorldCom building than when WorldCom was there,” the mayor said, citing the influx of SkyTel workers and the balance of remaining MCI employees. “The whole WorldCom debacle was more perception than actual impact on our retail development.”

Peters noted that his company took a good look at the situation in Clinton in the wake of the bankruptcy scandal.

“We had not started (Clinton Parkway Center) when it happened. We looked around and met with the officials and saw that the demand was still there,” he said, adding that his company had no regrets about that decision. “It’s been wonderful to work with the people out there in Clinton.”

Aultman said that was hopefully the experience that other business owners considering the area would have, citing her administration’s efforts to continue to encourage development.

“We’re open for business in Clinton,” she said.

Contact MBJ contributing writer at Julie Whitehead at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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