Here’s a neat story about how a group of artistic types in search of cheap housing and workspace are reviving abandoned parts of a small Mississippi town. Excerpt:
“All through Mississippi there are these beautiful little towns,” Mr. Ownby said, “and too many of them, sadly, are empty storefronts and decaying housing. A few of them, like Water Valley, have had a revival because of a good idea or a few good ideas. Artists moving in is one option.”
Mr. Howley, a former history teacher and shrimp boat captain, and his wife, Annette Trefzer, a professor of American literature at the University of Mississippi, arrived in 2002. They are the third owners of their 1906 house, which sits on two acres, has four fireplaces and a wraparound porch and cost $80,000. When they opened an art gallery and artists’ collective on Main Street in 2008 — called, winningly, Bozarts Gallery — there were 18 empty storefronts.
Now there are six, but even that figure belies a healthier reality, Mr. Howley said. Two of those six buildings have recently been purchased and restored, and are awaiting tenants. It is worth remembering that during the same period, the rest of the country has been mired in a recession. Water Valley’s stories are running counter to the national narrative.
Mr. Williams, 80, said later that he had lived in Water Valley for 57 years. He described himself as an avid cheerleader for Ms. Fussell and her sisters on Main Street, and an expert in the ecosystem of small-town businesses, having run a clothing store and an insurance agency through the “Walmarting of America,” as he put it.
“I think right now in Water Valley, it’s the greatest opportunity since I moved here,” he said with gusto. “If I was younger, I’d be buying property. These young girls, they’ve got spunk, they’re going to make it.”
He added: “So I was at Coulter’s art opening. She sold 15 of those framed hair pieces. This is unheard-of to me. My wife even bought one. These girls, they are jumping on the tide, they are adjusting, finding a niche, they’re opening eyes. Even a month ago, if you had told me my wife would have bought a framed hair piece at an art gallery, I would have thought you were crazy.”
A dozen or so years ago, a woman opened a small coffee shop in downtown St. Francisville. I noticed it on one of my visits home, thought it was great, but figured it was probably not going to make it. People here don’t go to coffee shops. Today, that shop, Bird Man, is a social hub in the town. It moved to a bigger space, and does a great breakfast business. Everybody goes — young people, old people, everybody. People seem so glad to have a place like this. So you never know.