Although many factors made it happen, downtown New Albany has undergone a notable renaissance since the Tanglefoot Trail opened in September, 2014.
Mayor Tim Kent pushed contractors hard to have the new plaza at the Tanglefoot trailhead open in time for the annual Tallahatchie Riverfest September 26 and 27. Working night and day, the workers had it finished in time for the annual festival. Popular entertainers, perfect mild weather, and excellent marketing combined to produce unprecedented crowds, some estimated as high as 10,000 people, for the 2014 Riverfest.
Perhaps, to use a cliché expression, it was a “perfect storm,” but the boom in downtown New Albany is now in its sixth consecutive month and shows no signs of weakening. Cold weather came, and with it reduced bicycle and pedestrian traffic on Tanglefoot, but downtown New Albany continued strong. When mild weather returned after the severe March 5th ice storm, downtown New Albany swarmed with people, many of them out-of-town and out-of-state visitors, on Saturday.
New Albany, even on week nights, now typically has more people circulating downtown than any city in north Mississippi, Tupelo included.
According to Sean Johnson, marketing director for the city of New Albany, sales tax collections for September through December, 2014, were up 11% over the same four months in 2013 and tourism tax collections for those four months were up 16% over the previous year. The Christmas shopping season in New Albany saw an increase in tourism tax collections of 28%, which represents an unprecedented increase in business activity for local hospitality businesses.
It is axiomatic that the best place to locate a successful hospitality or retail business is near other successful businesses. Several downtown business, some brand new and others in dramatically improved facilities, have demonstrated anew the power of “location, location and location.” The newest of these is Vintage Market at 127 Bankhead Street. Among other features, Vintage Market has what is perhaps the first new soda fountain to open anywhere in north Mississippi in 50 years. A lunch counter lined with stools, serving fountain drinks, hand-dipped ice cream and a variety of sandwiches and other comestibles is already a big success.
Immediately next door west to Vintage Market, Van Atkins, the venerable New Albany jeweler, moved this winter into a new space, beautifully designed and decorated, and substantially larger than their former location across from city hall at the southwest corner of Bankhead and Railroad Streets.
Trails to Treads, a Tupelo-based retailer of bicycle, accessories and clothing for cycling enthusiasts, opened last fall in Henderson Building at the southeast corner of Bankhead and Railroad, making them immediately adjacent to the Tanglefoot Trail. Trails to Treads also has bicycle rentals available
AC’s Coffee, located directly on the east side of the new Tanglefoot Trail and about 50 yards from Bankhead Street, opened just before the trail itself was officially opened. Serving a variety of coffee drinks as well as fruit drinks and pastries, AC’s Coffee has been one of the more dramatically successful businesses to open in New Albany during the last decade. It has become a popular gathering place throughout the day and early evenings and thus has had a notable impact on the social climate of the community.
Several other new shops have opened within the last six months on Main Street, all of them a one minute walk from Tanglefoot. Retail and service businesses that were located downtown before the trail opened, some many years before, have with few exceptions enjoyed a substantial increase in traffic and sales.
New Albany has been the subject of in articles in five different regional publications about “great Southern destinations” within the last month. These articles have touted New Albany, along with Amelia Island, Florida and Fairhope and Muscle Shoals Alabama, as good places to visit.
Recent improvements have not just contributed to “keeping New Albany green,” but have added significantly to the “quality of life” of all local residents.
Keep visiting nanewsweb.com for more articles coming soon about the dramatic improvements in downtown New Albany in recent months.
For more on New Albany Renaissance:
Part II, Counting our blessings
Part III, Selling Union County
Part IV, Sign language