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Partners renovating old ice house as part of revitalization

Duo has big plans for downtown Prentiss property

Prentiss — There’s no stopping two determined women who want to take their lives in a different direction and at the same time do something meaningful for their hometown. That’s why Kim Thornton, 44, and Kippy Smith, 42, purchased the old ice house on Front Street and plan to make it the hot spot in this Jefferson Davis County town.

“We have big dreams and hope it will be wonderful,” Thornton said. “We’re very excited about it.”

The two story brick building dates to 1926 and has been many different things, including a restaurant. The partners are researching its history with an eye toward a possible listing on the National Register of Historic Places. They will have a display of any photos and artifacts they find. The old ice house is located directly across from the park where the Longleaf Trace bicycle and walking trail ends. This picturesque trail begins in Hattiesburg and brings out-of-town visitors to Prentiss. Thornton says the park is the high point of the town.

“We both grew up here and want to give back to the community,” Smith said. “Restoring and utilizing this old building is a way to do that. The building is a unique place and has its own personality. We want to make the most of it.”

The women are a part of the group that started holding “Love of Prentiss” meetings in an effort to revitalize the small town. “We discussed what we could do that we have a passion for and could keep alive,” Smith said. “We have been doing a number of things to find the right mix and now it’s time to take that step.”

Eclectic assortment

That mix includes an eclectic assortment of retail and special events to bring people to town. The new business will be called The Ice House. Renovations are starting this week on a portion of the building that burned.

The first floor will carry specialty gifts with a heavy emphasis on Mississippi-made products. “We want to carry works by Mississippi authors and artists and have as many Mississippi items as we can,” Thornton said. “We have a list of Mississippi people and that’s our target.”

The second level will be called The Lady Bug and will carry shoes, accessories, belts, purses and jewelry. “We know we’ll have Yellow Box shoes and the popular Crocs because they’re different, fresh and everybody wants them,” she said. “We will have fun, casual shoes, a holiday line and some dress shoes.”

Thornton said there is nowhere to buy shoes in Prentiss at this time. She and Smith are going to a shoe market in September in Tunica where there will be 500 shoe vendors. They will add a porch and open terrace to the back of the building where outdoor items such as pots and chimineas will be for sale. This area will be called Lagniappe and will be complete with benches, tables and chairs, plants and a water fountain.

“We will have book signings here, music and karaoke,” Thornton said. “We plan to show old movies and kids’ movies on the back, solid cement wall. We’ll make it a fun place where things are happening.”

Noting that the selection of what they can carry is limitless, she said they will get in touch with the Farm Bureau to inquire about farmers willing to grow cut flowers that can be sold at The Ice House.

She says they will start small with all things and let the business grow. Thornton has been a nurse for 23 years and may continue to do some nursing. Smith has been a cosmetologist and worked in several other occupations. She moved back to Prentiss seven years ago. Each is the mother of three children and each is ready to march to a different beat. They are combining their talents to pull this enterprise together. Both attended a workshop by the SBA on how to write a business plan.

And the business side?

“When I’m thinking of passion for what I want to do and being creative, I don’t want to think about the business side, but that must be done, too,” Thornton said.

She does, however, come from a business family. Her parents have owned and operated Speights Cash & Carry Building Supply in Prentiss for many years and are giving the new entrepreneurs business advice. Thornton says her dad will oversee the renovation and she may conscript her sisters to work part time at The Ice House.

Smith’s husband, Wayne Smith, is a construction superintendent with the Blain Companies. Thornton’s husband, Col. Mike Thornton, is deputy commander of the 155th Combat Brigade of the Mississippi Army National Guard who is currently deployed to Iraq.

The opening date of this new business depends on how quickly renovations can be finished, but Thornton says it will open this fall in time for holiday shopping.

“People do best when they do things they love and we love this,” Smith said. “Times have been hard for this community and we hope we’re doing something that will inspire others.”

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

About Lynn Lofton

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