CRYSTAL SPRINGS — The historic town of Crystal Springs is a short drive down Interstate 55 from the metro Jackson area, but in some ways, it’s worlds away. It’s those differences that keep residents and draw newcomers and retirees.
“We have a slow pace here and a warm community,” says Chamber of Commerce executive director Donna Wells. “We have a lot of retirees locating here and some local young people who’ve decided they want to live and work here.”
She says retail is making a strong comeback in this Copiah County town. There are some new businesses and some that are redefining themselves. “It’s what small towns are doing to stay alive,” she said. “The downtown is pretty vital even though we do have some vacant buildings.”
The most heartening thing in Wells’ viewpoint is the renovation of the town’s old buildings. One of those is the last remaining produce shed from Crystal Springs’ days as the produce capital of the world. That history is relived through the annual Tomato Festival held the last Saturday in June but few local farmers are growing produce anymore.
The sons of Jackson attorney Jim Kitchens — John, Dan and Matt — are renovating the former building of the Kitchens Wholesale Company that was owned by their grandfather in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s. The original part was built in the late 19th Century. The building had several owners and the most recent let it be known he intended to tear it down and replace it with mini storage units.
“We couldn’t have that,” said John Kitchens, 28. “I talked to my brothers about it and we decided to buy it.”
The brothers — all attorneys — are currently using part of the 19,000-square-foot building for legal storage and storage for non-profit organizations, including Habitat for Humanity and Camp Rainbow where they all serve as counselors.
“We’ve replaced the roof and wood damage, and we’re spending a lot on insulation because it’s close to the railroad tracks,” Kitchens said. “We’re leaving the pine ceiling and flooring. We’ve completely rewired it and added bathrooms.”
They’ve collected all the Tomato Festival posters and will hang the framed posters in the building’s 11-foot-wide hallway.
Upon completion, the building will serve as a branch office for the law firm of Kitchens and Ellis. They hope to be in it in about a month. Kitchens, who has strong family ties to the community, feels legal services are needed there because there’s only one other attorney in town.
“We want to keep the old feel and history of the building,” says John Kitchens, the youngest of the sons. “We’ll be very proud of it. I love it. There’s nowhere else I would rather be.”
As a third-generation business owner, Gates Garland also has family ties to Crystal Springs. The Garlands have been in the furniture business there since 1927. Recently Garland moved to a different location — a 100-year-old building that was formerly a hardware store — and changed the name to Garland Furniture & Antiques, Etc.
“I’ve always fooled with antiques and used furniture, and wanted to do this,” he said. “I was in the other building for 16 years and needed a better building.”
The large building, located on the downtown square, has some rented flea market booths, lots of antiques and used furniture as well as a recycling center operated from the back.
“It’s a tradition, something I enjoy and it’s a service to the community. That’s why I keep doing it,” Garland said. “The town seems super excited about it because they haven’t had anything like this before. I wish we could get more antique shops and draw visitors downtown to spend the day.”
Garland says traffic at the new location is good and picking up.
Last fall, Cliff Goolsby opened an unusual new business downtown in another renovated old building. Lewis & Clarke’s New Discoveries is in a 7,600-square-foot building that dates from the mid-1950s. It has been totally rebuilt with heart pine floors and high ceilings.
Goolsby offers the lengthy list of merchandise that includes home furnishings and decorative accents, shoes, grooming products, pottery, jewelry, plants and cast iron items.
“My dad bought property here in 1975 and we rebuilt an old home here,” he said. “When we came across this building, we had to rebuild it, too. It was an old Ford Motor Company business and over the years had been several other businesses.”
He says business is good, but he’s looking for it to pick up this fall and holiday season.
Two other welcome additions are Wisteria Inn B&B and Crystal Springs Youth Center. The B&B, owned by Lana Goolsby, is the town’s only hotel and is in an 1859 house listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Wells says the house was in horrible shape and was completely renovated a few years ago. Jerry and Amy Keywood opened the Youth Center, a gym that despite its name works with geriatrics and occupational therapy.
Wells says Casey’s Department Store has been around for many years and is a big asset for the town, along with several drug stores and dollar stores. Lake Chautauqua Park, located on U.S. 51 within the city limits, is another asset.
“It’s really beautiful,” she said. “We have a lot of events there and it serves the community well.”
She says the town is focusing on schools right now as a way of bringing more residents and industries to the area. “We have the opportunity to turn the schools around. We’re trying to improve them and test scores,” she said. “We recognize the importance of that.”
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at firstname.lastname@example.org.