CLINTON –Until recent development activity started to take off, Olde Towne Clinton was limited business-wise.
Property owners like Debbe Tillman have given new life to the historic area, which is a block from Mississippi College. Tillman and her husband, Carl, own three buildings in Olde Towne.
“The timing was just right and we had the opportunity,” said Tillman, who also owns Amacker Inc., an advertising firm.
She moved her business to Olde Towne earlier this year, when she purchased an old home, the Johnson House, at 504 Jefferson Street. It was the last residence of the family who owned Johnson Milling in Clinton.
“I saw a for sale sign and I made a phone call. I was on Highway 80 and highly visible. I needed a quieter setting,” said Tillman.
Tillman said her interest in Olde Towne began with “a real sense of place when I was anywhere in Olde Towne.”
Her first chance to buy property in Olde Towne came about two years ago.
She purchased a building at 302 Jefferson Street, which houses Pentimento Books owned by Toni Wall.
Tillman started Olde Towne Events in her first building. The events held included “Paint the Town,” with local artists painting scenes of the area.
“They closed off streets. It was like being on a big, front porch,” said Tillman.
Across the street, she looked at the Olde Towne Professional Building and thought about purchasing it, but it wasn’t on the market. Eventually, it was, and the Tillmans purchased the property. In 2005, she opened the building as The Leake Street Collection featuring a variety of collectibles, vintage clothing and furniture. “It’s an ideal anchor for Olde Towne,” said Tillman of the property which sits on a visible corner.
Tillman said anywhere from four to seven people rent space in the building for their wares. A certified public accountant has the only office in the building.
“This is the sort of business I have enjoyed shopping in over the years. It’s interesting and fun. My philosophy of business for Olde Towne is to create an environment you would enjoy yourself as a shopper.”
“When people come in, we have the nicest comments about how they enjoy being in the area,” said Tillman.
She said the Clinton Visitor’s Center just off the Natchez Trace exit in Clinton has helped business immensely as has joint billboards with other merchants traveling Interstate 20.
“We get people coming through here from Louisiana and Texas off the interstate. A number of Clinton people also shop in Olde Towne,” said Tillman.
Tillman and her husband are thrilled with the property they own in Olde Towne and would like to see more people open businesses in the area.
“We’re on the brink of blossoming. A year from now, it will be twice as good down here,” said Tillman.
Eyeing the future
Olde Towne was recently the focus of a charrette that attracted professionals from across the country to look at the area. Additionally, the city just became a member of the Mississippi Main Street Program, which begins in 2007.
Just over a year ago, Johnny and Sue Courson, owners of Gravity Coffeehouse, moved from 202 West Leake Street to 104 West Leake Street into the historic Potter House.
“It’s a more visible location. We absolutely love this old house,” said Sue Courson.
Larry Gatewood of Jackson, a retired police officer, moved into one of Tillman’s buildings at 202 West Leake January 3 to open When Pigs Fly. It offers vintage furniture and collectibles.
“I ended up here by default. When I retired, I wanted to do something,” said Gatewood. He came to Olde Towne to Pentimento, a bookstore, and when he saw the turn-of-the-century buildings, Gatewood said “the seed was planted.” The building became available and currently Gatewood shares space with Becky Wilhite’s hair shop.
“My first customer was one of Becky’s customers. Her hair was soaking wet and she was waiting her turn for the dryer. She bought a bunch of stuff from me and I knew I’d found a home,” said Gatewood.
He chose the name, “When Pigs Fly,” because that’s what friends would say when he told them of his dream to open an antique store. “Business has been good. I’m tremendously pleased,” said Gatewood.
Gatewood said, “We have a lot of fun here. I got in at the right time.”
Business has been so good that Gatewood and one of his business neighbors, Dorothy Birdsong, owner of Red Door Antiques, are opening up another business in a corner building owned by Matt Wiggins. Wiggins is also the owner of several other Olde Towne buildings.
The two will sell furniture and collectibles in the new building. The building is awaiting repair and the two hope to move in by late November.
Birdsong, who lives in Bolton, was riding through Olde Towne Clinton a year ago this past September when she saw a “for rent” sign in the building she occupies.
That building is also owned by Wiggins, a longtime friend of Birdsong’s. “I took a chance. It has been a much better first year than I anticipated,” said Birdsong.
She likes to tell her customers that “I’m enriching your home with yesterday’s treasures.”
Birdsong opened last December, the night of the city’s Christmas tree lighting and had “a great first opening. I’m thankful to still be here. There is a lot of hope for this area,” she said.
She and Gatewood will participate in Olde Towne’s open house from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. November 12, as will other Clinton merchants.