Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant is old enough to remember when Capitol Street in Jackson served as the state’s largest and most popular shopping destination.
“How exciting that was for us,” Bryant said, recounting the shopping trips he and his brother would take with their mother to Downtown Jackson.
While she shopped, Bryant said, he and his brother would watch a movie at the old Lamar Theater and munch on hamburgers before it was time to head back home to Rankin County.
Recreating those crowds and that energy is mandatory if downtowns across Mississippi are to survive, Bryant said Thursday at the Mississippi Main Street Association’s annual awards luncheon at the newly refurbished King Edward Hotel in Jackson.
The King Edward, since its reopening in December after four decades of dormancy, is the first significant sign that Downtown Jackson’s rebirth has cleared a major hurdle.
Bryant praised the work of the individual Main Street Associations across Mississippi.
“A lot of times those of us in government think we have all the answers. The truth of the matter is, there are more answers on Main Street than on High Street (where the Capitol is). You continue to pull the economy slowly forward.”
Pulling Mississippi’s downtowns back into relevancy has been the mission for Main Street associations.
‘We’ve got to go back to the future,” Bryant said. “Vibrant, busy downtowns are what we all want. We want to go back there. It’s like a high school sweetheart. You’ll always love her, and she’ll always be beautiful.”
Columbus’ downtown is an example of that resurrection.
At the national Main Street Association conference in Oklahoma recently, Main Street Columbus became Mississippi’s first winner of the Great American Main Street Award, recognizing the new businesses and loft apartments and condos that have sprung up in the area the past decade.
Last week’s luncheon also recognized projects by some of the individual associations that have had their intended effect.
The Main Street Market in Woodville and the Ritz Theater and Conference Center in West Point tied for the best rehabilitation project.
The best public improvement project award went to the Tupelo Guitar Art Project. Main Street Clinton took home the best newsletter for a Main Street community with a population greater than 5,000.
Welcome Home to Pontotoc was best image or branding promotion.
Main Street Water Valley’s chair-ity auction, which featured chairs remade and fashioned into works of art, auctioned off to raise money for the association. Laurel’s first ever Loblolly Festival last October was named best special event.
The merchant of the year award went to someone who saw the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as the perfect opportunity to start her own small business.
Nancy Moynan, who had worked as a chef in some of New Orleans’ most famous restaurants, including Commander’s Palace, opened Maggie Mae and Lulu’s in Bay St. Louis, The café and art gallery has become one of downtown Bay St. Louis’ hot spots in the nearly five years since its opening.
“This is a great time to be involved in Main Street,” said Mississippi Main Street executive director Bob Wilson.