Main Street Blog
Last Board Meeting of 2016 held in Carthage

Photo: Russell Baty, director of The Leake County Main Street Chamber and Suzanne Smith, MMSA Board President


The last Mississippi Main Street Association (MMSA) board meeting of 2016 was held Dec. 8 in Carthage, Miss. The board was invited to meet at The Leake County Main Street Chamber on the historic Carthage Square. Carthage Main Street and the Carthage Chamber of Commerce merged in 2016, and the organization became county-wide to include Carthage, Walnut Grove and Lena. This is only the second county-wide Main Street Chamber in Mississippi with the other being the Pontotoc County Main Street Chamber.


Mayor Jimmy Wallace welcomed the state board members to his city and commented that much progress has been made since the Main Street program was designated and had a charrette 10 years ago. He mentioned the downtown improvements, upgrading the parks, the new food and beverage sales tax, and job growth as indicators of success.


"Main Street has been a shining star in what we have done in Carthage," Mayor Wallace said. "Russell does a great job with the Main Street program…he's a real bulldog."


Russell Baty directs The Leake County Main Street Chamber and Penny Alford is his assistant. Michelle McCann is the board president and greeted the MMSA board members as well. McCann commented that she had served on the board for both Main Street and the Chamber when they were separate organizations, and she said it was the best decision for the two entities to merge.  She also commented on the job growth and the support from major businesses, like Baptist Medical Center where she works, for the Main Street Chamber.


"We recently hired two family practitioners, and that is huge for this small town. Both of these doctors were born and raised here and wanted to come back home," McCann said.


After the board meeting, The Leake County Main Street Chamber treated MMSA board and staff members to hot Mexican tortilla soup and toppings, mini sandwiches, pound cake and Christmas petit fours made by the bakery on the Square owned by Baty and his wife.


Following lunch, Baty led Suzanne Smith, MMSA Board President, on a tour of the Square and pointed out improvements made. Through several grants, the entire streetscape of the Square has been renovated, and the resulting curb-outs, brick sidewalks, lighting and signage make for a very comfortable and inviting stroll. Most of the buildings have been fixed up and are filled with businesses. The few vacancies had charming Christmas displays in the windows. Merry holiday music played through speakers along the streets of downtown.


The Square was bustling, and even though the board meeting had ended, there was still much going on in downtown. A ribbon cutting for a new business was being held that afternoon, and many businesses had extended shopping hours that evening. The Chamber Main Street handed out a book of coupons from stores advertising discounts and specials.


All in all, the City of Carthage and specifically downtown Carthage, looked polished and bright for the board's December meeting. Thank you to the Leake County Main Street Chamber and the City of Carthage for hosting the MMSA board and staff and sending us home with warm, full bellies and a good bit of Christmas spirit!


Jeannie Zieren


“Attitude - Mine is Always Positive”

Street Talk
North Mississippi Herald
by Mickey Howley, Water Valley Main Street Association

When I’m sitting at the keyboard, my head in the “Street Talk” mindset, staring at the white screen, often I’ll think of something to write only to remember, well, I’ve already written on that subject before. Memory gets blurry, as it is something like 390 columns at this count. And I’m not taking about the countless occurrences of the shopping local theme, which just so you know, could be every column. Just trying to keep it fresh for all you 19 readers. (Yes, that’s counting my mom).

This week it’s about something I wrote before. Something intangible but essential to have in downtown and the whole town. That’s having a positive attitude. Folks from near and afar ask me what has changed in Water Valley. In my opinion, the most important thing is the collective attitude residents have about the place.  Back in mid-July 2012, I wrote about the power of positive attitude and someone who clearly had that. And how I came around to see attitude is critical. That column was about when in the late 1980s I was working in the service shop of the Mercedes-Benz dealership in New Orleans. Here is what I wrote about my boss.

“This was before e-mails, so he sent memos as internal messages and letters to suppliers and customers. He signed his name and afterwards he wrote, “Attitude—Mine is Always Positive.”  My division in this company was a small group of guys all about my age. We liked our boss, he treated us well, and we tried to do a good job for him. But we always secretly snickered about the “mine is always positive” line. It was a recurring theme in our daily sarcastic humor about work and life. The jokes and riffs were funny, but in retrospect, my boss was on to something.”

The next paragraph was about outside folks noticing the change in the Valley, about trying to explain the shift going on here. Here is how I summed it up.

“And in trying to put a finger on the reason for the return of Main Street—was it one thing or another that was the game changer or made a dramatic difference—it occurred to me that my old boss was right. Attitude is the difference and that is slowly what has changed in our town. People now feel like Water Valley is a place that matters, and that they individually can make a difference in the town’s development.”

That’s what I wrote in 2012 about attitude. I still think it is important and still think Water Valley’s attitude is positive. Collectively still strong and still think an individual can make a beneficial difference. The message just needs a little reminding every now or then.


Okolona: Coming Together

May 2016


"Tell me a success story."


This is something I am asking every Main Street director when I visit his or her community. Why? Because anyone who is proud of their hometown has something good to talk about. And, let's admit, we all could use some positive news in our lives. Life is hard, and we certainly need to celebrate when times are good!


So, I found myself meeting with Perry Grubbs and Annie Gates, the Executive Director and Board President, respectively, of the Okolona Area Chamber of Commerce/Main Street. I was there to conduct a program evaluation, but what I left with was an exciting feeling that good things, some tangible, some intangible, were happening there.


When I drove onto Main Street, my first impression was: This street looks really nice—most of the buildings look fixed up and full, there are nice hanging flower baskets along Main Street and other beautiful landscape treatments, like the area around the roundabout with the statue. I also thought, it's a shame that as many cars pass by Okolona every day, that there is no signage to entice people to actually come in to town.


After talking with Perry and Annie, I soon discovered that getting traffic into Okolona has certainly been identified as a need, and there are plans in process to make these gateway signs and overall wayfinding happen. Continuing to attract new business and market existing business is a major goal for the Chamber/Main Street, along with installing these signs.


One business that stood out to me was Mugs on Main. This coffee shop looked contemporary and cool, a sure sign that things are happening in downtown Okolona. I found out Mugs on Main also serves up some good lunches and were awarded the Main Street Award from the Okolona Chamber/Main Street for this year.


After conveying my initial reactions to downtown, we got down to business.


We talked through the 10 criteria for state and national Main Street accreditation, and then we got to the interesting stuff. I asked Perry and Annie, "What is a recent success story here?"


Perry's eyes widened, and he leaned in, as if whispering a secret, "The Harlem Ambassadors."


Come again?


Perry said that one thing this small town is known for is raising quality athletes. This town of 2,500 has 10 professional athletes who call it home. So, the interest in athletics here is obvious.


He and Annie took turns filling me in on the exciting event that took place in February of this year.


The Harlem Ambassadors, a professional touring basketball team from Chicago, was recruited by the Chamber/Main Street and the Okolona school system to visit Okolona, and specifically, Okolona's students. Chamber/Main Street board member Lorene Moore pioneered the idea, and once the Board of Education approved the idea, things starting moving quickly.


"It was the talk of the town," Gates said.


Civitan members and Okolona High School Band members sold tickets to the public. The local newspaper built the community's anticipation for the event. Finally, the day arrived.


The Harlem Ambassadors put on an "anti-drug, anti-bullying and pull-up-your-pants" campaign, Grubbs said. And, the campaign was targeted to and heard by 600 kids with standing room only.


That was just the day program. That night, the Harlem Ambassadors took on the 2002 Champion Okolona High School Basketball Team. I asked who won, and Perry told me with a wink, "Well, you know the Ambassadors always win."


"The Harlem Ambassadors came on a Tuesday night, and my kids were still talking about it at church the following Sunday morning," Gates said.


"It was a religious experience," Grubbs said, "And, it happened in Okolona!"


The Chamber/Main Street continues to make working with Okolona schools a priority. They created programs for the high school basketball season and sold them for $1.00. All proceeds went back to the basketball program.


"We have got to bring people together in a positive way," Grubbs said. "We hope the city will come together in all respects."


The Chamber/Main Street continues to bring people together. Membership is at an all-time high of 124 members. Thirty-nine new businesses have started in the past five years. Only 12 of these have closed. For an economically-distressed town of 2,500, those results are pretty dramatic!


"The community is behind the Chamber/Main Street 100 percent," Gates said.


"We have to unite," Grubbs said. "And, that's happening!"


"See why we keep him around?" Gates joked. Then, Annie got serious. "What Okolona needs is to come together as one. Until we see that, we'll be a town divided. With a town this size, we all should have the same goal to bring Okolona together."


And that, my friends, is why I left Okolona excited. It felt a little bit like a church service. The kind where you are on your feet and clapping.

Photo: Perry Grubbs, Annie Gates and Jeannie Zieren






Take a Ride on the Polar Express in Batesville

For the first time ever, Batesville, M.S. will begin service to the North Pole onboard THE POLAR EXPRESS™ Train Ride starting Nov. 20, 2015. The magical story comes to life when the train departs Batesville for a one hour round-trip journey to the North Pole. 


Set to the sounds of the motion picture soundtrack, passengers will relive the magic of the story as they are whisked away on THE POLAR EXPRESS™ Train Ride. Once onboard, cheerful, dancing elves serve passengers hot chocolate and cookies while they read along with the classic children’s book, The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg. Santa and his helpers greet passengers at the North Pole and then board the train, where each child is given the first gift of Christmas – a silver sleigh bell. Chefs aboard each car lead passengers in singing Christmas carols on the ride back to Batesville.  


In response to overwhelming demand for tickets to experience the inaugural season of THE POLAR EXPRESS™ Train Ride in Batesville, M.S., Diamond and First Class tickets have been added and are now on sale.  Standard Class tickets also remain and are selling at a record-breaking pace for any first-year introduction of rail service to the North Pole.  


THE POLAR EXPRESS™ Train Ride operates on select dates through Dec. 27, 2015, with departure times at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m., 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Exact dates, fares and excursion times are available by visiting or calling 877-334-4783. Ticket prices range from $20 to $85 depending on class of service and date of travel. Families are encouraged to wear their pajamas for the ride.


Link to high res. images of the POLAR EXPRESS Train Ride:


Check out recent coverage of the Batesville POLAR EXPRESS:



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Mississippi Main Street Association
P.O. Box 55747 | Jackson, MS 39296
Phone: 601/944-0113
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