Jackson — The commercial area of Fondren is an eclectic mix of small businesses that thrive in this charming part of town.
The architectural styles and storefronts are varied and colorful, beckoning shoppers to stroll and enjoy the artsy feel. It’s an old part of town that’s experiencing a revival of new business openings. Some wouldn’t be right in any other part of the Capital City.
One of those is the Fondren Beverage Emporium that opened in January at the corner of North State Street and Duling Avenue. Owner Matthew Bowdoin says business is good. “It’s something I always wanted to do — have a soda bar,” he said. “I wanted to have sodas from all over the world.”
Bowdoin worked in hospital administration and was toying with the idea of putting his dream into reality when he found the corner space in Fondren. “I was driving around looking for corner space and saw this space,” he said. “Seeing this location brought it together for me.”
The Beverage Emporium is indeed a soda bar with every kind of soda imaginable. There are about 100 different root beers alone! Charts above the massive drink boxes list the contents and read like a world tour.
There’s also candy galore — old and new varieties, domestic and imported, along with novelties.
The owner admits that some of the candy offerings are favorites from his childhood but says he tried to bring back many nostalgic, hard-to-find sweet treats for everyone.
It’s not unusual for small businesses to open here and grow. Fondren Traders opened in 2001 and moved to a larger space in the Rainbow Natural Grocery Plaza a year ago. Owner Ann Herlihy has lived in the area 15 years and is very committed to the neighborhood.
“I wanted to be part of the business community and it’s a good location for my business because it’s an artsy kind of area,” she said. “It’s a perfect fit and business is fantastic.”
Fondren Traders sells artwork, pottery, jewelry and yard art and most of it is by local artists. Herlihy says she is not creative herself but is an admirer and promoter of creative people. “They have to have that too,” she affirms.
She participates in the Fondren Business Association and its monthly art walks. The next one, ‘Arts, Eats and Beats,’ will be on April 20 when businesses keep longer hours and encourage visitors to explore the shops while nibbling and listening to music.
“It’s amazing to see the growth here of the last few years,” Herlihy said. “It’s lucky that the people who live here have recognized the importance of working with businesses. We have some dedicated people who want to live in a diverse community that’s a mix of homes and businesses.”
She added that visitors and evacuees from the Gulf Coast gravitate to Fondren because the colorful mix of homes and businesses reminds them of the coastal area.
The Orange Peel is another business that has recently expanded. The vintage clothing consignment boutique has been open less than a year and now has an addition that features retro furnishings and men’s clothes for a total of 3,000 square feet on North State Street.
Owner Kristen Tubb says Orange Peel Retro Furnishings is doing well along with the vintage boutique. “I wouldn’t have opened anywhere else,” she said. “There are no plain Janes here and it’s the right location for me.”
She is one of Fondren’s biggest cheerleaders and easily ticks off the positive things happening in the neighborhood.
“My business fits in so well here because there’s such a variety,” she said. “There are working artists such as Richard McKey, Custom Optical Service that doesn’t just do the ordinary thing, Tangles Hair Salon, New Vibrations, Butterfly Yoga and Aladdin’s Restaurant to name a few. Aladdin’s has Mediterranean food and is beautiful inside with silks. Once a month they have people from Butterfly Yoga come in and demonstrate belly dancing.”
McKey, who owns Studio 3242, stresses that his business is a working studio but he does let people come in. “I sell a pretty good bit of art out of the studio,” he said. “I like it here because it’s in the Fondren Arts District but not too close to the walking traffic of Fondren.”
He keeps the walking traffic under control with his works in progress by putting up a ‘By Appointment’ sign. He paints whatever comes to mind, usually working in mixed media of water color, ink and acrylic and also does some sculpting. His current interest is putting more texture into his art.
“I’m real excited about the Duling School project that’s nearby,” he added. “The old school is to be converted into retail and apartments. It will bring something new to Fondren and improve everything around here.”
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at firstname.lastname@example.org.