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Retail thriving in historic downtown Crosstie District

Cleveland — It’s little wonder downtown Cleveland is building a reputation for destination shopping. Known as the historic Crosstie Shopping District, it has all the elements to draw area residents and visitors alike. It’s a downtown many towns large and small can envy.

Anne Dilworth is manager of the Mainstreet Program, which was named Team Cleveland to reflect a community wide spirit and was organized in 1990 by the Chamber of Commerce. “It’s an unusual downtown,” she says. “It’s very attractive and retail is thriving. All the businesses are locally owned mom-and-pop-type businesses.”

The two main thoroughfares, Cotton Row and Sharpe Avenue, run parallel with a green strip and bayou running down the middle. There are a lot of old trees and numerous blooming flowerbeds. Volunteer Jane Dunlap takes care of 10 to 15 rose beds and recently planted 75 new rosebushes.

A crown jewel

The crown jewel is the walking trail completed with an $800,000 grant from the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT). Dilworth points out that the funds were available because the trail follows the path of an old railroad line from the time when Cleveland was a bustling railroad center.

“The walking trail is really used,” she said. “It has plantings, trash bins, benches and decorative lighting.”

Next on tap is a sidewalk renovation using another MDOT grant. All sidewalks will be replaced with stamped concrete in a red brick pattern along with underground wiring and period streetlights to match those on the walking trail.

“That will really put the icing on the cake,” Dilworth said, “along with the contributions that Mainstreet has made that include sprinklers, period street signs, a 30-foot flag pole and cleaning the bayou.”

The physical beauty of the Crosstie District brings people downtown, but it’s the businesses that entice them to shop and make the area lucrative. “There’s a good mix of shops, including gifts, clothing, antiques, flowers, bath products, jewelry and restaurants,” she said. “The pride that business owners and the community have make it the shopping hub of the Delta.”

Dilworth says shoppers come from Mississippi and Arkansas to enjoy the downtown’s ambiance in a safe environment with plenty of free, convenient parking.

The whole area is a historic district and any façade change must be approved by the Heritage Commission. The town was incorporated in 1886 and was recently recognized as one of the One Hundred Best Small Towns in America.

Angela Marquis is the owner/manager of Personalities, a shop featuring clothes, jeans, swim suits, shoes and accessories for the young contemporary. “We’ve been here six years and have customers from all over,” she said. “There are a lot of unique shops here and I feel like it’s an outside mall because I look out and see the walking trail.”

The right mix

Just off the main drag on Court Street, Charlotte Skelton has been running A la Carte Alley gift shop and restaurant since 1994. She feels the mix of businesses complement each other and draw people to the area.

“When I opened, there were no other restaurants downtown and I hit at the right time,” she said. “I opened the gift shop first and started the restaurant with only six tables because I had no restaurant experience.”

The business now has 16 employees. It grew slowly but steadily without Skelton feeling overwhelmed. It is housed in a vintage 1920s building that had a former life as a newspaper, print shop and office supply business. David Skelton, a farmer, renovated the building for his wife’s business and helps there in the winter. The couple’s children will work there through the summer along with several Delta State University students.

“Business is good and we attract a lot of people from out of town, a lot having to do with Delta State,” she said. “I hope we can keep everything downtown locally owned.”

Dilworth says downtown retailers have nothing to fear from the new super Wal-Mart being built on the outskirts of town.

“It’s like comparing apples and oranges,” she said. “They’re not the same thing.”

She praises local contractor Raymond Huerta for renovations he has made to historic downtown buildings. “He has been a God-send to downtown,” she said. “He redid a burned out building and turned an old warehouse into an antique mall with a restaurant. His latest project is the restoration of the Grover Hotel that was built in 1926 or 1927. He has really made a difference.”

Other additions will soon be welcomed to the area. A train museum displaying an immense toy train collection and other railroad memorabilia will open in a new building matching the old depot next door. The Delta Arts Alliance has purchased the old Ellis Theatre with plans for exhibits known as Arts at the Ellis. Dilworth says these will be nice additions to downtown, contributing to the diverse mix.

The town’s population is 13,800 and does not include the 4,000 students at Delta State. Dilworth says the school and the town have a wonderful relationship that adds a youthful flavor to the historic county seat of Bolivar County.

The Crosstie District will be showcased at October Fest the second weekend in October. The annual event attracts 10,000 to 15,000 people with an economic impact of $1.3 million for the town.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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