By LYNN LOFTON
He’s been deceased 43 years but Elvis Presley is still making money for Tupelo, his hometown. The Lee County city is about all things Elvis — his birthplace and museum, a festival and sites around town such as the hardware store where he purchased his first guitar and the restored Lyric Theater where he saw movies and might have had his first kiss.
There are direct and indirect revenue steams flowing into the city. “When visitors experience the birthplace and take time to explore the Elvis’ Tupelo Driving Tour, it extends their stay, so they eat in Tupelo’s over 160 restaurants, shop in the city’s three distinct shopping districts, and spend the night in one of our myriad accommodating hotels,” says Neal McCoy, executive director of the Tupelo Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Tupelo also boasts 13 live music venues, so no visit to the birthplace of the King of Rock ‘N’ Roll is complete without finishing out the night with great live music.”
The Elvis Presley Birthplace & Museum is comprised of the original home where Elvis was born, a museum that chronicles his life, and the Assembly of God church where he was influenced by gospel music. While these three exhibits require a ticket, there are more than 15 other free exhibits to explore on the grounds of the Birthplace, McCoy explained.
“Tupelo also has the Elvis’ Tupelo Driving Tour and Elvis’ Tupelo Self-Guided Bicycle Tour that takes you to 14 places, including the Birthplace, that were influential in Elvis’ childhood growing up in Tupelo. Highlights of the tour include Tupelo Hardware Company where Elvis’ purchased his first guitar,” McCoy said.
Dick Guyton, executive director of the Birthplace & Museum, estimates the facility has 80,000 visitors each year. “About half are international visitors. We’ve had people from Tibet, Australia, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Japan and all over the world,” he said. “Anywhere you go in the world and mention Elvis Presley people know that name and where he’s from. We’re seeing third generation fans now.”
He adds that he would like to see more Mississippians visit this state treasure.
Guyton, who’s been with the Birthplace & Museum 18 years, notes the growth in the attraction during that time. Elvis’ childhood church was moved to the property; 10,000 square feet was added to the event space along with an expanded story wall and statures on the back; and a lake on the property was upgraded.
He and others in Tupelo’s tourism sector are trying to get more people to spend nights in the city’s approximate 1,700 lodging rooms. “We’re adding things such as a dinner theater and there are many restaurants here.”
Overnight stays will be plentiful for the annual Tupelo Elvis Festival taking place June 3-7. According to Dalton Russell with the Tupelo Main Street program, sponsors of the event, rooms are already scarce and package tickets have sold out. Individual tickets went on sale March 2.
“Anyone wanting to come and stay should definitely book early,” he said. “At the end of this year’s festival, many people will book their rooms for next year.”
He says organizers are expecting another big year for the event that began in 1998. “It kick started with a New Year’s Eve event and a celebration of Elvis’ 85th birthday on January 8.”
The festival takes place throughout downtown Tupelo and includes live music, Elvis Tribute Artist concerts and competitions, living history demonstrations, Food Truck Friday at the CVB, Running with the King 5K at Veterans’ Park, Fling with the King, Elvis Look-A-Like Pet Parade, and more.
One music event with different bands takes place at Fair Park where Elvis’ 1956 homecoming concert took place. The Elvis Tribute competition will be at the BancorpSouth Arena, and a smaller event will take place at the Lyric Theater, which was built in 1900 and where Elvis saw movies and it’s said he had his first kiss in the balcony there.
“We try to cater to younger and older fans,” Russell said. “Last year we started a Youth Day with an educational session that was well received.”
For more information, visit tupeloelvisfestival.com.
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